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Bath products sales slip slightly in '01

It's no surprise that the bath products industry experienced a slight decline in sales volume over the past year, slumping by 3.4 percent to $2.8 billion.

Most suppliers participating in HTT's exclusive statistical survey, "The Facts: Bath Products," agreed 2001 proved to be a tough year, "for all home textiles categories," David Record, vp and national sales manager at Calhoun, GA-based Georgia Tufters, told Home Textiles Today.

And Record isn't getting arguments within the bath industry.

"2001 certainly was not a real good year in textiles overall," said Dan Harris, vp of marketing and product development for Niles, IL-based Revere Mills, who added that, ironically, his company experienced its most successful year in 2001. "We're well aware it wasn't good for retailing in general, but we continued to grow predominantly because of growth from our bath towel business."

Jack Bray, senior vp of sales and marketing, for Griffin, GA-based 1888 Mills, noted that the bath category "suffered last year, and it all started before Sept. 11. But once that happened, the impact was even harder. There was a slowdown in the economy in general."

Added Kathy Fowlkes, bath business manager for High Point, NC-based The Bacova Guild, which purchased Burlington Industries' Burlington House bath division in April: "My business has grown, but I can understand the total industry suffering. Let's face it — business was affected last year by many factors, such as Sept. 11 and the many retail closings. With the amount of stores that went out of business, how much bath business was lost had to be significant."

Of the distribution channels that fared best last year, discount department stores continued their growth, raking in 47 percent, or $1.13 billion, of the total share of the bath business. In second place, home textiles specialty chains continued their steady growth pattern by growing 1 percent to 22 percent, or $616.0 million, of the category.

Those numbers proved consistent with New York-based Ex-Cell Home Fashions' estimations.

"Regarding distribution, we expect to see continued growth in the mass and specialty store segments of our bath industry," John Fraley, executive vp, told HTT.

Fowlkes said that, from her observations, it was the major big-box" discounters and some general merchandisers that weathered the storm most successfully in bath.

Bray agreed, adding that discounters offered the "right" price points sought by value-oriented consumers.

"They promoted heavily and gave customers very competitive pricing on the goods," he said. "It's a combination of reasonable prices and stronger selection on the floor. They have the space the category needs. Just look at the square footage dedicated to towels alone vs. other categories in these stores. They definitely give us more space."

Maybe it's due to generous placements that towels continue to make up more than half — 55 percent — of the total merchandise mix.

But more growth is expected by suppliers for bath accessories, which last year comprised 12 percent, or $336.0 million of the market — the third-highest sales generator in bath last year.

Importing, too, has continued its slow but steady climb as the way of the future for bath products suppliers. Last year it rose by 3 percent to 38 percent of all bath products at the expense of domestically made goods, which now make up 62 percent, down slightly.

"Buyers are looking for the very best value, and oftentimes it's from overseas," Record said. "They don't care if they buy from U.S. companies or from China; it's all the same to them as long as it helps their bottom line."

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