Toilet seats a low | Cost way to decorate the bath

The bathroom decoration market has been enhanced by wider selections of toilet seats, as consumers seek easy ways to coordinate accessories such as wallcoverings and window treatments. Ginsey Manufacturing now distributes more than 250 toilet seat models. Most other bathroom fixtures and decorations are much more expensive than toilet seats. Decorative seats priced $20 to $60, and kiddie toilet seats featuring cartoon character imprints, priced $10-$12, are among the fastest growing segments

Bathroom decorating has progressed from matching soap dishes and towels to coordinated shower curtains, wallpaper and fixtures. Toilet seats have not been excluded in the trend.

"The consumer has become more aware and more fashionable, and chooses items such as toiletseats to go with the decor of their bath," explains Sean Charles, manager at Ginsey Manufacturing in Bellmawr, NJ. Ginsey offers more than 250 decorative toilet-seat SKUs to retailers, including home centers, hardware stores and specialty stores. Ginsey and other manufacturers provide designs that, match the latest colors, prints and icons used in other bath fashions.

What defines decorative or designer toilet seats? Retailers see them as almost anything beyond the basic: wood, solid-colored or embroidered seats, or those licensed with sports logos, cartoons or patterns used by bath-towel and shower-curtain companies.

Builders Square, the San Antonio, TX-based home center chain, offers decorative seats in-store as well as through special order. Orders are placed for high-end seats, such as wood or hand-painted designs that range in price from $20 to $60. "Our special-order (toilet-seat) business began in 1993, and has been strong," says a fashion/plumbing buyer for the chain. As the chain continues to emphasize home decor throughout its stores, future plans include a line of coordinated seats, shower curtains and towels.

The buyer says upscale, decorative toilet seats represent an "untapped market." She says kiddy toilet seats (retailing at $9.99 to $12.99), printed with popular cartoon characters, have been the "hottest selling seat" at the store. "We bought these seats in bulk quantities, and in two weeks, we sold out," explains the buyer, who asked not to be named.

A buyer for N. Wilkesboro, NC-based Lowe's Cos., Inc., says nearly half--35--of the chain's toilet-seat SKUs fall into the decorative category. She says these seats represent a "huge growth category because of (shoppers') increased attention to fashion and home decor." Selections at the chain's stores range from embroidered seats to Looney Tunes kiddy seats. Prices, ranging from $20 to $30, aren't a concern, according to the buyer. "People spend $100 to $150 on coordinating faucets," she says. "So $25 for a toilet seat is a bargain."

Scott Raymer, buyer for Cotter and Co., says retailers who offer a complete bath department with a range of bath accessories have the opportunity for add-on sales, much like a decor department that carries wallcoverings and window treatments in addition to paint. "Color is important, along with cross-merchandising accessories in a coordinated-decor set," says Raymer.

Sheer selection can help move decorative seats as well. Prescott True Value Hardware, a 30,000-sq-ft store in Prescott, AZ, carries 62 toilet-seat SKUs, 70% of them decorative. Sales have taken off, explains store manager Paul Morse, since the store created a large display for all the seats. Higher prices, ranging from $22 to $59, don't deter customers, Morse says. Homeowners are willing to spend more money for a creative seat as a way to quickly redecorate a bathroom. "It doesn't take a lot of time or money to change a toilet seat, and therefore change the decor of the bath," Morse explains.