Cape shop's displays a mall 'speed bump'

Bath Time owner Bonnie Mullock sets up a display of soaps inside her store on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May. The shop is a finalist for a visual merchandising award.

Bonnie Mullock's business specializes in scents - hundreds of them in soaps, lotions and creams.

But before a customer can whiff the aromas, they need to notice the store and be drawn in by something.

This is also a specialty.

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Mullock called it "the speed bump," the displays at her Cape May shop, Bath Time, on the Washington Street Mall that slow down pedestrians enough to want to peek inside.

"Window displays are quite hard to do because they really have to catch someone's eye, especially in the mall because we're in the midst of all these wonderful retail stores," said Mullock, 60, of Cape May.

One of the more recognizable window displays is the yellow rubber ducks in an antique bath tub, for a business that sells personal care products, soaps, lotions and other items.

The shop is one of three finalists for Gifts and Decorative Accessories magazine's 62nd annual Retailer Excellence Award, which will be awarded Aug. 18 in New York.

Bath Time is a contender in the category of Visual Merchandising, up against shops from Huntington Beach, Calif., and Clawson, Mich., the publication said on its website.

In one display, Mullock said, she sought to address a particular geography of potential customers - men who sat outside while the women in their lives shopped.

The answer - a display of men's products such as shaving creams, in a window facing benches where they traditionally waited.

"Most of our customers are women, and men tend to sit on the benches outside," she said of the approach. "We've really grown our men's section that way."

Mullock and her daughter, Mariah, started the business in 1994, as "simply a place where you could come and buy yourself something special … so when you took it home it made you feel wonderful. It was just a little something personal you could pick up, a tiny bit of luxury," she said.

Visual elements that change with the seasons have long been a part of the initial draw.

"Spring is quite a challenge because we have to have something really colorful to encourage sales in the beginning of the season and let people know we're open for business. And we always try to have something new, very colorful, very spring like. That's basically when we introduce our new merchandise," she said.

While the sights may attract customers, the scents are the main draw.

Among the trademarks of the business is a "fragrance blending bar," in which customers have about 250 different fragrances they can blend together in forms of shaving cream, perfumes, lotions and bubble baths. Fragrances include beach, woodsy, saltwater taffy, pina colada, bubble gum and others.

"It's a fun way to talk to people, to engage them in the store," Mullock said. "We like to chat with everybody that comes in. We like to find out where they're vising from. It makes them feel comfortable."

Mullock said Bath Time also stocks about 650 types of soap from around the world - Italian soap made with olive oil, as well as soaps from Australia, Portugal, Greece and the U.S., including ones made in Cape May.

Certain aromas can hold special memories for people, something Mullock said she witnesses often.

"All day long people come in and say this reminds me of my grandmother, or a place at the shore, or my third-grade teachers," she said. "There are so many beautiful memories associated to smell. We hear it all day long."

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