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New Year’s Resolution: BBW Takes Holistic Route to Wellness

NEW YORK — Most years start off with good intentions.There are the diet plans, the new projects and renewed commitments to family and...

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NEW YORK — Most years start off with good intentions.

There are the diet plans, the new projects and renewed commitments to family and friends.

Well, this January, women looking for a little push in the right direction now have a corporate buddy to turn to — Bath & Body Works.

Over the past year, BBW has been reengineering the DNA of its corporate structure to become more than simply a purveyor of fruit and floral scented shower gels and novelty candles.

According to Beth Pritchard, longtime president of the 1,600-store chain, the company’s revised mission is to "establish Bath & Body Works as the 21st century apothecary where good health and great care blend into great solutions." Generally, it wants to delve a bit more deeply into helping customers improve the quality of their lives. Shoppers should not only smell good, but feel good.

When Bath & Body Works started in 1990, "personal care was routine, soap was to get the body clean and lotion was to heal chapped elbows and rough hands. BBW turned it into a pampering experience, with softening and scenting," Pritchard remarked. "Our research over the last two years shows that women still want to be pampered, but they also want to feel good inside. There is a desire for well-being."

To begin to address this, BBW introduced the Aromatherapy and True Blue Spa product collections a little more than a year ago, during the summer of 2001. A few months later, the chain unveiled a new store format that would progress BBW from its original "woodstain" look to a more spalike environment with white tones and polished floors. A handful of flagship stores, now numbering 23, began to offer spa services such as massages and facials.

Currently half of all BBW stores sport the "white" look, which will be rolled out to all stores throughout the year. Looking ahead, the company hopes to have some 300 flagships by 2005.

But it’s not just about products that promise to soothe, energize or stimulate romance.

In November, Bath & Body Works held its first Well-Being Summit, a conference for some 1,000 A-list customers, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
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Speakers included best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil, yoga aficionado Christy Turlington, David Kirsch, founder of Madison Square Club, and herbalist Dr. Tieraona Low Dog.

This event was so successful that Bath & Body Works quickly planned another 20 smaller conferences for its markets around the country. The first regional took place in Detroit in December.

Dr. Low Dog, who spoke at the New York and Detroit conferences, said BBW "brought me in to talk to their customers about ‘how to live our lives in a more healthy way.’ I think that is a great direction."

Her talk focused on the use of herbs for sleeping and relaxation, and how important diet is for health and wellness. "During the holidays we overeat or don’t eat at all and that affects our blood sugar levels, which affect how we feel," said Dr. Low Dog, who earned a medical degree from the University of New Mexico and branched out to focus on herbal medicine.

David Kirsch, a one-time lawyer turned fitness guru, is also the author of "Sound Mind, Sound Body."

"My mind was always open to having a more balanced and more sound life," said Kirsch, explaining why he shifted careers. "To put it mildly, my life wasn’t as balanced [as an attorney]. I had migraines all the time."

At the Waldorf, he spoke to the women of New York about the "importance of de-stressing" with an emphasis on "integrating mind and body in training and reintroducing people to the joy of movement." Kirsch advised on making exercise and movement ritualistic in life, setting realistic goals and finding your own "best balance."

The conference, noted Kirsch, "was all about getting back to yourself and it is very encouraging that a huge company would take this step and to tell the consumer — their client — that they matter."

To complement the public events, BBW has created a new Web site, bathandbodyworks.com, which currently provides tips on life improvement from its panel of experts, such as five tips for finding "me time." There is also a BBW Solution Center under development, which will include a Well-Being Advisory Panel to make recommendations on programs and activities. There is also the introduction of Mall Ambassadors, BBW representatives who stroll through malls bearing stress cards, which work like old mood rings. You put your finger on it and it reveals your stress level. The reps also pass out coupons for BBW products.
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Shifting its direction was not purely altruistic: BBW sales had been slumping. In 2001 the chain’s comp store sales fell 11 percent, the first decline in the chain’s history. The most recent data available show 2002 comp store sales slipped 3 percent for the year ended November. Sales for 2001 were $1.74 billion, compared with $1.78 billion in 2000. The new product lines have ushered in higher price tags and helped stabilize sales — a standard BBW lotion is typically sold in multiples of three for around $20, while a new Aromatherapy lotion is $12.

Robert Goehrke, head merchant at BBW, said with the chain’s new model, "We are embracing the world of well-being and creating an integrated and holistic approach to health and beauty that will deeply enrich our customer’s experience."

At the New York Summit, Pritchard told the audience that "BBW is committed to making life for our customers better on a very broad basis." More recently she added, "We are entirely dedicated to our focus on delivering products that will nurture and restore harmony and create balance and beauty within the lives of our customers."

The Summits, she commented, "are really to give women the information they need — How do I eat right? How do I take care of my mental attitude? Through yoga? Pampering? Through a spa experience?" Pritchard said. "Nearly every woman wants to go to a spa, but not everyone can."



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