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To Resin or Not To Resin: The Bath Accessories Question

New York — Raw material price increases have claimed another home textiles industry victim — bath accessories.

Sales in this segment of the bath business, which in 2004 rang up $407 million, or 11 percent of the total bath industry's $3.7 billion, are running flat this year.

And suppliers largely blame price increases in raw materials, particularly resin. At 45 percent of the product mix, resin has been the material of choice for its flexibility and malleability.

Raw material price hikes have been an issue suppliers have been dealing with since early this year, with prices peaking most recently in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

“I've been fighting (resin price increases) but I don't know how long I can,” said Carl Legreca, vice president, merchandising and marketing, bath products and decorative accessories, Croscill Home. “We are getting hit with higher prices and fighting them all the time. Everyone can be squeezed only so much. A shift will all depend on supply and demand.”

Some suppliers say they are experiencing low double digit increases from overseas manufacturers. Simultaneously, retailers have been raising their own margin on the product, which now run up to 60 percent, where they used to be closer to 50 percent.

Compounding the problem is buyers' preferred price range for accessory pieces — $7.99 to $9.99 for soap dishes and tumblers — which “boxes us in a corner,” said Rick Lipton, director of bath coordinates, Baltic Linen Co., which in October is entering the bath accessory category. “We are in a position of preconceived retails and that cramps design…You've got a real Catch-22 with resin because it's petroleum-based so the price for it has skyrocketed and yet it's the most functional, flexible, durable product we can use.”

With bathrooms in new homes getting bigger, suppliers are often forced to create larger-size accessory pieces, which require the use of more material and hence, call for higher price points that retailers are reluctant to take on.

“I keep getting resistance on price points for resin wastebaskets,” Legreca said. “It's hard because these are large pieces. We need a lot of resin to make them, plus they take up more space on freight. And the cost of freight is not going down, it's going up.”

But inflation happens to be impacting the industry at a time when suppliers admit to be growing “bored” with resin.

“I started working in more ceramic last market because the market was so flooded with resin that I felt I had to come up with something new,” explained Barbara Wright, vice president, Veratex. “We've already seen these price increases and we've had to just eat them. It's affecting manufacturing, and we're watching retailers' markups go up; meanwhile our costs are going up.”

Reevaluating the oil-based material's long-dominant role in the category, suppliers are looking to offset pricing pains by offering new alternatives in product this October during the New York Home Textiles Market.

Ceramic, many say, is making a comeback as one of those substitutes. Today, it is the second most popular material used for bath accessories at about 30 percent of the mix.

Cincinnati-based Saturday Knight Ltd. has not yet passed along price increases in resin to its customers, “but it's what's going on now, and we'll see what happens in the future,” explained Dianne Weidman, vice president of marketing, sales and design.

Instead, like many others, Saturday Knight will show more ceramic products than usual as well as smaller resin pieces at market.

“Resin in its heyday was wonderful because it can mimic so many things,” said Mary Shafer, vice president, bath, Springs Industries. “But we're pushing the envelope on ceramic now, avoiding the slap-on-a-decal-and-say-goodbye look. We see ceramic as an adjunct. There are new glazes available from China that are beautiful, the marriage of matte and shiny looks, and many other interesting things happening. We won't give up on resin because of the detail and the intricacy it provides. But we are looking at how we can be creative with ceramic. We are not on a white horse looking for a replacement for resin. But we are trying to do different things with different materials.”

Ex-Cell Home Fashions is showing more resin products versus ceramic at the upcoming market, said Kim Winckler, bath design manager, “As we begin new development we will take into account the price increases in petroleum and explore different materials such as metal, wood and glass.”

Creative Bath Products is coming to market with products that command “some bling — value-added features, special finishes, bonuses that justify a better price point,” said Bob Weiss, director of sales and marketing. All the while, he said, the company is trying to maintain a stable price base.

“But the truth is that the cost of petroleum affects everything, like freight costs, not just the resin,” he continued.

WestPoint Home is pushing its coordinate business to spur interest for its bath accessories.

“The idea is to sell the business, not an item,” said Bob Dale, president of the bed and bath division. “If you look at the bath accessory business as a coordinate component of a larger collection, it makes for a much more interesting aspect, and becomes an additional sale. People who can create a multiple sale have the chance to get a better payback.”

Added Wright: “It's tough, but still I don't let (the raw material price increases) affect my design. We are using resin because I have ensembles where resin is the best material for that look. If price prohibits this, I still won't make that kind of compromise.”

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