The surge In bath towels is wet & wild

New York – Even as much of the attention in the boom of home furnishings products during the stay-at-home conditions of the pandemic era has been focused on categories like home office, kitchenware and outdoor/backyard items, one particular home textiles product has also been a star

Towels – indeed, the entire bath category – including rugs, shower curtains and bathroom accessories – has been experiencing above average sales growth over the past 15 months and it’s produced a range of trends across the classification. Some recent research shows the category up 31%.

How towels and bath in general have been – well, you’d have to say wet and wild – was the topic of the latest installment in the ongoing Home Textiles Today webinar series, Innovations 2021. “Cleaning Up in the Bath Department” examined changes in color sales patterns, the rise of premium and multi-piece sets, increased focus on product attributes and sustainability and the challenges for manufacturers and retailers alike to service the business in a supply chain crisis unlike anything seen in recent memory.

“When the pandemic first hit a year ago, frankly we didn’t know what to expect,” said Regan Iglesia, chief marketing officer for WestPoint Home, the full-line bedding and bath resource. “But starting last spring, the bath towel business became unstoppable,” he said, adding that is continuing into 2021even as stay-at-home conditions lessen with higher vaccination rates.

“We saw the same thing,” said Josh Staph, vice president of the consumer division of Standard Textile, which entered the consumer and direct segments several years ago after years as a major supplier to the hospitality business. “But in April that started to pick up and we don’t see it stopping as consumers want to make their homes as nice as possible.”

Interestingly, both WestPoint and Standard saw shifts in the product mixes of what was selling. Color became much more important with shades like grey, navy, mint green and aqua gaining in popularity even as white still remained the best-selling color, albeit by a smaller margin.

The surge In bath towels is wet & wild

The towel market also saw a rise in luxury and better towel sales, the two suppliers said, echoing comments from the third panelist, Buxton Midyette, vice president of marketing and promotions for Supima, the premium cotton brand, which is also the sponsor of the webinar series.

“We saw an increase in the amount of Supima going to towels,” he said, saying it was a fortunate shift as the apparel market slowed down. Joking that “towels use a lot of pounds of cotton,” he said the market for premium cotton will continue to be challenged by supply shortages.

The better towel market also was helped by more interest in fashion and textured towels, Iglesia said, while Staph added that products using innovative techniques like antimicrobial treatments and sustainable attributes were also driving sales.

Balancing out the activity at the better end of the market was an increase in opening price point business, particularly in sets. “We saw consumers looking to replace their entire bathroom supply of towels,” said Iglesia, “and we sold a lot more 12 and even 24-piece sets.”

Standard didn’t see quite that level of activity in multi-packs, Staph said, but he noticed many more first-time online shoppers buying two-piece sets as a way to “dip their toes into e-commerce.”

The panel also saw more opportunities for the towel business in several other areas: hospitality, which has come back strong already in 2021; the B&B sector, which has become an alternative to more crowded hotels and resorts; and even sales to campgrounds, which are booming too.

Wherever those towels are going, the three panelists all believed business would remain strong. When asked by moderator Jennifer Marks, editor-in-chief of Home Textiles Today, how long the boom would last, Midyette said “it will continue through at least 2021.” Staph said the surge “has serious legs” and Iglesia said the increases were “very sticky.”

Providing yet another purpose for a nice new towel.