Did a candle company accidentally sniff out the secret to retail success?

Despite declines at almost every other mall chain, sales at Bath & Body Works have increased for the last 40 quarters of sales growth.


January 13, 2020

According to most analysts, the modern mall business is a stinking pile of garbage. And CNBC reports that the “tsunami of store closures” is likely to continue.

But there’s a lonely outpost of hibiscus-scented hope that masks the stench of malodorous malls: Bath & Body Works, which has increased its sales for 40 consecutive quarters.

The Bath & Body biz is booming

At Bath & Body Works, online sales AND in-store sales are increasing — a rare retail bright spot and a big boon to its parent company, L Brands. 

L Brands also owns Victoria’s Secret. But the performance of the Dirty Secret compared to Bath & Body offers a study in contrasts…

At Victoria’s Secret

  • Overall sales have declined for 12 of the last 13 quarters
  • Same-store sales fell 12% this past holiday season 

At Bath & Body Works:

  • Overall sales have increased for the past 40 quarters
  • Same-store sales jumped 9% this past holiday season 

So, what’s B&BW’s sweet-smelling secret to success?

It’s all about the candles

Bath & Body Works’ stores are designed to create a comfortable, relaxing environment — and with the rest of the world in literal flames, relaxing candle scents and friendly customer-service reps have become a winning formula.  

In fact, to use the trendiest retail jargon, Bath & Body Works’ emphasis on its in-store experience could almost be considered… experiential. 

But B&BW was “experiential” before that was even a buzzword

In recent months, “experiential retail” has become one of the hottest buzzwords in the ad industry (the advertising trade publication Adweek dedicates a whole category of its site to “Experiential” coverage).

Other retailers have gone “experiential” in desperate attempts to survive the retail-pocalypse (after all, 9.3k retail stores closed last year).

But for Bath & Body Works, sweet-smelling candles and friendly faces aren’t an innovative strategy — they’re just how the company has always done business. 

As one former B&BW employee (and lifelong superfan) wrote on her Tumblr more than 6 years ago: 

“BBW was started by… a large retail corporation. But this origin story didn’t fit in with BBW’s down-home style. So, the company created a fictional founder named ‘Kate.’ […] Each BBW store was seen as ‘Kate’s home,’ and employees were asked to treat customers as if they were guests in her home.”

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