Editor's Note: Nicole Lapin is the editor of Recessionista.com.
"Bath Salts" is a dangerous synthetic drug.
Bath salts are a therapeutic addition to bathing.
The confusion and recent spike in negative attention for the former is diluting the business for the harmless latter.
“We’ve been growing 20% on average every year for the past 10 years. Maybe we would have grown 30-40% if it wasn't for all the confusion,” said Lee Williamson, President of SF Salt Company, which has the biggest selection of bath salts online and a brick-and-mortar store in San Francisco.
Williamson says that the confusion has always existed, but the recent headlines that have captivated national concern about the "Bath Salts" drug that's been blamed for a wave of gruesome assaults and cannibalism concern him more than ever, as he is trying to grow his actual bath salt business.
“It’s been on our minds for a couple of years, but it's definitely scarier these days now that it's picking up momentum. It's a concern because we are building our company on salts and putting a lot of marketing money behind that," Williamson said.
SF Salt Company was recently forced to change the name of one of its bath salts, “Tranquility,” to “Harmony” after receiving numerous calls from people seeking the drug “Tranquility” -- one of the many street names for "Bath Salts." The synthetic powder is sold under a variety of other names, such as "Ivory Wave," "Cloud Nine," and "Zoom."
Williamson isn't the only bath product owner who's received scary calls from people thinking the company sold the "Bath Salts" drug.
Naomi Novotny, the president SaltWorks, Inc. says that people have even left her messages in the middle of the night lately saying "shame on you" for selling the stuff that's been in the headlines.
"It's frustrating and an annoyance. Even our customers see stories saying 'they're outlawing bath salts' and people are calling and asking 'can they really do that??' And I have to say, 'No, of course not,'" Novotny says.
“If they said it was 'Shampoo' that was doing this, would people stop using real shampoo?” she said. “This story happens to have hit a nerve that has caused a ton of confusion in the marketplace.”
There's lot of confusion and a nebulous future for how the headlines will continue to affect their companies, which are part of the multi-billion dollar global bath and shower products business. It's a business that experts say has only grown $175 million from 2009-2014 because consumers have cut down on luxury bath items in the midst of the recession.
In an industry that saw big spikes of 7% in 2008 (after the swine flu outbreak) and 13% in 2009 due to a continued consumer demand of antibacterial products, this decline is hitting them as sales were already slumping in the last few years.
Specialty business owners like Novotny point to drug stores as the place where consumers will likely shy away from purchasing bath salts first. "It's affecting the drug stores more because their consumers might be casual consumers who might have also casually seen the headline and equated the two," she says.
“There’s definitely a lot of confusion. The media has to be better about explaining the difference between bath salts, which are a simple mixture of sea salt and fragrance, and the 'Bath Salts' drug, which is a form of synthetic cocaine made of a mixture of amphetamine-like chemicals that can produce paranoia and hallucinations,” Novotny explained.
"I'm sure people are afraid of actual bath salts from the headlines and have not pulled the trigger because they are confused by the headlines, which is a shame because they have the opposite healing effects of this deadly drug with an unfortunate name," Williamson said.