Bath & Body Works’ sales are soaring — we visited a store to see why

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

  • Though L Brands is mired in slumping sales due to falling perception of its Victoria’s Secret brand, Bath & Body Works continues to shine.
  • Bath & Body Works continues to report strong earnings, effectively carrying the struggling L Brands. The personal-goods retailer has found success by playing to the power of nostalgia while staying relevant with updated stores and new product tests.
  • We visited one of three Bath & Body Works locations in Manhattan to see what it’s doing right.

As L Brands struggles to revitalize its ailing Victoria’s Secret brand, Bath & Body Works proves it has enduring appeal.

Best known for its bountiful selection of personal care and bath products, Bath & Body Works has established itself as a bright spot for its parent company. The brand posted a 13% increase in same-store sales in the first quarter of 2019, while sales at Victoria’s Secret’s stores declined by 5%. Thanks in part to the success of Bath & Body Works, L Brands reported a net income of $40.3 million for the quarter, more than three times the value estimated by analysts.

Investors have started pressuring L Brands to split Bath & Body Works from the struggling lingerie company. In March, hedge fund Barington Capital sent a lengthy letter to L Brands CEO Les Wexner arguing its point for a spinoff, taking a page from the playbook of Gap Inc.’s recent decision to make Old Navy a standalone company.

In the meantime, L Brands made pointed efforts to offset its losses by selling La Senza and closing its high-fashion brand, Henri Bendel. Still, the company’s “performance continues to be mixed,” L Brands CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer said on the investor call in May.

We visited a Bath & Body Works store in Manhattan’s Flatiron District to see what’s helping set the retailer apart:


The Flatiron Bath & Body Works is one of three locations in Manhattan, and it was bustling with shoppers at 11 a.m. on a Monday. Bath & Body Works is one of the largest personal care and home goods retailers in the world, with more than 1,600 stores.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Source: USA Today


Though the first store opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bath & Body Works was founded and is headquartered in New Albany, Ohio. We found a small display honoring its hometown.

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Since its conception in 1990, the retailer has worked to maintain a wholesome image, effectively becoming “America’s sweetheart of beauty brands.” Its marketing and store design are very intentional, with smatterings of gingham, wooden barrels, and other nods to “country living.”

Source: Racked


Bath & Body Works has developed a rabid following over the past three decades. Today there are fan blogs and YouTube accounts dedicated to sharing new products.

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User Tina Marie shows off her latest haul in a video posted last month.
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YouTube/Tina Marie

Source: YouTube


Even celebrities like Rumer Willis can’t get enough of Bath & Body Works. The actress was spotted browsing candles at a store in Los Angeles in 2010.

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Getty Images/Jean Baptiste Lacroix

Bath & Body Works has worked to establish loyalty with its core consumer base of millennial women thanks to a product assortment that blends nostalgic items with updated seasonal offerings.

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The store we visited also had plenty of fun, whimsical items perfectly fit for a children’s gift.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

At the same time, Bath & Body Works has expanded its inventory to attract new demographics, including men. At the Flatiron store, we found a collection of men’s bath and shaving products strategically marketed for Father’s Day.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

In recent years, Bath & Body Works has found particular success with its White Barn Shop concept, which focuses on candles and air fresheners.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

The company continues to invest heavily in White Barn and often runs popular promotions like “3-for-1” deals on candles. Executives said on an earnings call earlier this month that they have 200 White Barn projects planned for the rest of 2019.

Source: USA Today


The White Barn collection really goes all-in on seasonal products, including new scents like “Island Reef” and “Suntan.”

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

In addition to classic scents like vanilla, Bath & Body Works sells a vast collection of quirky, off-the-beaten-path candle fragrances. Here are a few of the more obscure ones we found at the Manhattan store.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Looking for something a bit cosmopolitan? Spring for some eau de San Francisco.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Still unclear what it’s supposed to smell like.


Can’t say we’ve ever had a berry waffle cone, but we wouldn’t mind eating one after smelling this.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

They even have special occasion candles for all your sentimental needs.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Part of Bath & Body Work’s continued success is its investment in store design and remodeling, which has brought a breath of fresh air to the brand.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

The Manhattan store was brightly colored and well-lit, with flowers lining the displays.


Elements of the store felt like being in a time capsule, like the sink where shoppers could test products — an integral part of the brand’s early ’90s stores.

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Children of the ’90s will also be delighted to find the occasional classic scent, like this Cucumber Melon hand sanitizer …

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… and this Sweet Pea lotion.

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However, as we all know, some products were simply just too good to last, like the Bath & Body Works Art Stuff line.

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Poshmark

The collection, which was popular in the late ’90s and early aughts before it was discontinued, has inspired many an ode. You can also occasionally find the original products on resale sites, though they go quickly.


Meanwhile, over on eBay you can snag some OG Art Stuff for a cool $27.30.

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eBay

Still, Bath & Body Works isn’t afraid to test new scents. Its latest Gingham line has been a surprise hit, which executives have credited to its “sophisticated” appeal.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Source: MarketWatch


Ultimately, Bath & Body Works has become the rare retailer that consistently draws a stream of loyal customers to its brick-and-mortar stores.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider