This Christmas retailers are hoping consumers will stuff their stockings with bath products, lower-priced fragrance items, men's toiletries and other health and beauty care products carried in conventional supermarkets.Two-thirds of the retailers contacted by SN for this story mentioned bath products and/or fragrances as key HBC categories that would be promoted during the coming holiday season.However,

This Christmas retailers are hoping consumers will stuff their stockings with bath products, lower-priced fragrance items, men's toiletries and other health and beauty care products carried in conventional supermarkets.

Two-thirds of the retailers contacted by SN for this story mentioned bath products and/or fragrances as key HBC categories that would be promoted during the coming holiday season.

However, according to the majority of retailers polled by SN, the emphasis in supermarkets' holiday promotional activity usually shifts to general merchandise seasonal categories.

And some retailers -- such as C&K Market, Brookings, Ore., which operates 30 stores under the Ray's Food Place banner -- will key in on special niches to attract customers during the holidays.

The chain plans to promote and advertise women's and men's fragrance items "pretty heavily," according to Dan Van Zant, general merchandise supervisor.

"We are always looking for something out of the ordinary. We are trying to promote some different items at Christmas. At this time we offer fragrances in only three or four locations. They were just introduced about eight to 10 months ago as a test in three stores to see if it is a viable category that can be expanded into additional units," Van Zant said. A Christmas promotion of women's fragrances last year was "extremely" successful, Van Zant said.

"We tried about 18 items. This year that will be expanded to 24 items in the larger stores. Our smaller stores will have 12 to 18 items. Last year we found that some fragrances didn't do quite as well as others," he said.

Last year cardboard display

shippers able to hold an inventory of 72 to 144 items were used for the fragrance items. Some stores displayed several of the shippers. The inventory sold out in the first couple of weeks, Van Zant said.

"This year we anticipate devoting a 4-foot endcap to the category in some of our stronger units. All of our stores will have a fragrance promotion, but the size will vary depending on geographic area and size of the store," he said.

The stores range from 15,000 to 48,000 square feet, he said.

The fragrance program is expected to be expanded into permanent locations in additional units, Van Zant said.

Which stores will have permanent sections has not yet been determined, but Van Zant said he expects seven to 10 stores may have permanent fragrance sections.

"We see fragrance selling well during other seasonal periods such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. There are a number of times during the year that fragrance can be featured," he said.

C&K searched for something nobody else had. Most of its competitors carried name brand fragrances, so the chain selected a fragrance supplier that specializes in generic brands, Van Zant said.

"We were able to purchase the fragrance items in such a way that we could undercut any of our competition. During the holiday season last year we promoted 3.3-ounce fragrances at two for $4.99. Customers thought the price was a mistake and asked the clerks about it. Evidently, they told their friends, because we found that people came to shop in our stores just to find the fragrance items. Even with that price point, we were able to generate a good strong gross margin," Van Zant said.

"We find it sells fair. Fragrance items don't necessarily blow off the shelves, but sell well enough to justify the space," he added.

Food Giant, Seattle, plans to promote bubble baths in Christmas scents such as pine and bayberry, after discovering the products at a Christmas show held by its supplier, according to John Coker, general merchandise supervisor.

"We like to bring in special items for the holidays. This will be different from last year. Every year we try to offer something a little different," Coker said.

The stores may create a whole endcap of gift items, including bubble bath products, sponges, baskets and other related items that customers can buy to create their own gift baskets, Coker said.

"This is the first year we will try to promote bath products for the holidays. That seems to be turning into a hot category," said the HBC supervisor for a large East Coast nonfood distributor that supplies supermarkets with HBC and general merchandise.

"We plan to try the Yardley line of bath products. We will introduce the line within the next month as a permanent part of our inventory. We expect to have off-shelf displays and special promotions of the bath product line during the holidays," the HBC supervisor said.

"It is possible we might feature some bubble bath at a special price for the holidays, but we won't do an off-shelf display. We might put up a shelf-talker," said Randall King, nonfood buyer at Byrd's Food Stores, Burlington, N.C., a 43-unit chain.

"Normally, we don't do much with HBC at Christmas. We concentrate more on nonfood items such as toys, giftwrap and cards. We allocate the same amount of ad space to HBC as other times of the year, but we reduce or eliminate off-shelf displays of HBC during that period to make room for other seasonal merchandise," King said.

The vice president of mer-chandising for a Northeast chain said that traditionally promotional emphasis is placed on general merchandise vs. HBC for the holidays, but his chain is expanding its mix of bath products, and may pay more attention to HBC this year.

"We are just getting into bath products more extensively. We are in the process of incorporating more loofahs, sponges and other bubble bath products," he said.

Community Cash, Spartanburg, S.C., expects to offer some fragrance gift packs and lower-priced "knock-off" or imitator fragrances as in-and-out items during the holiday selling season, as in past years, said Jim Key, HBC buyer.

"We look for the lower price point for greater impulse sales. At the same time, we want to have it priced so we can still make money on the sale," Key said.

Other HBC items retailers said would get extra promotional support during the holidays were children's toothbrushes, hair fashion accessories, men's aftershave lotion, men's shaving razors, analgesics and stomach upset remedies.

Retailers said they're always looking for cross-merchandising opportunities in HBC.

Van Zant of C&K Market said fragrance items would be cross-merchandised with the floral department.

"That is something we tried last year that proved to be very successful. Actually, we tried displaying fragrance items in a couple of different locations within the store to get a feel for where the category should be. It seemed to sell best near greeting cards and floral," Van Zant said. At Community Cash, fragrance items may be cross-merchandised with seasonal giftwrap and bows, Key said.

"In our stores, bath products are still displayed in the household cleaner aisle. We would cross-merchandise the category with bar soap. Kids' items such as toothbrushes would be cross-merchandised in the cereal aisle," said the HBC supervisor for the large East Coast nonfood distributor.

"We try to merchandise these HBC items off-the-shelf, whether we use a manufacturer's shipper display or put something together ourselves," he said.

Holiday promotions of HBC and other categories will begin in late October or early November, retailers said.

"Our retailers begin their promotions right after Halloween. Then we run a big ad the end of November or early December," said the HBC supervisor for the distributor.

Coker of Food Giant said his chain's holiday promotions would begin sometime in October.

"If you start the promotions too early in the season, it gets monotonous," he warned.

Key of Community Cash said holiday promotions would begin Nov. 1, as in past years.

A few retailers said HBC tends to get less special display or promotional attention during the holiday season.

"We are not as liberal with HBC promotions for the holiday season because we only have that one shot with toys and giftwrap and we can only put the best ones out for sell-through," said Bill West, manager of nonfood for Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio.

"We buy those items [toys, giftwrap and other seasonal general merchandise] by the truckload. The rest of the year we can be more liberal with display space for HBC," West said.