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Jennifer Marks

Growing 'beyond'

In the battle for market share, driving traffic is king, and Bed Bath & Beyond is clearly pulling out all the stops to step up frequency.

As seen in two recent New Jersey debuts — a "Harmon at Bed Bath & Beyond" department in Iselin and a 60,000-square-foot prototype in Totowa that includes a warehouse-style food department at the entrance — the company is not only chasing frequency, it's reconsidering what its customers expect from it.

It's too soon to call Bed Bath the first mass market lifestyle store, but the retailer obviously is shaking off its format's conventions. The additions of food and HBA might not make it a cousin to Wal-Mart, but the experiments certainly move it closer to Target territory in terms of key destination categories. Practically all that's missing is apparel. The extras that define a full-line store — automotives, sporting goods and hardware — are by no means top-tier among traffic drivers in those formats. And heck, Bed Bath has been stocking fast-turn hardware items such as light bulbs and extension cords for a while now.

When you consider the prototypes and the Harmon acquisition as part of a whole, you can only conclude that Bed Bath has taken a page from the Wal-Mart 'Book of Growth' and is planting seeds very, very early to secure its future lines for growth.

Having dipped a toe into food — and leaped fairly vigorously into health & beauty aids — one can imagine a host of spinoff franchises a decade from now.

Freestanding Bed Bath & Body stores would be a logical extension once the Harmon business is fully digested and tweaked to suit the customer base. The format could offer a mix of fast turning HBA alongside higher-margin soaps and aromatherapy products. Throw in a tightly edited assortment of towels, bath hardware, throw pillows and décor items. Think of a 20,000-square-foot box that drops into urban markets or onto crowded pads near Kohl's and Target stores.

How about Bed Bath & Board, a format that marries the nascent food business with the retailer's lines of hard and table linens, kitchen hardware, serveware and so on? Toss in a few dec pillows and guest bath items, and you've got Pier 1 without the "mystic East" trappings.

Our final entry: Bed Bath and … Botany? It's entirely plausible for core Bed Bath stores to develop destination lawn & garden departments, and they could reasonably stock everything from potting soil to patio furniture. But as a spinoff (and this one could make a lot of sense) it also raises a key strategic question: At what point should "Bed" and "Bath" yield to "Beyond" on the nameplate.

Obviously, that day lies far, far into the future. Just as obviously, if the company determines that's the formula for sustained growth, it's not likely to shy away from that eventuality.

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