Though it sounds like a new cocktail bar in Manhattan, Mindy Yang, founder, Perfumarie, is using alcohol differently. She and her team in Soho are creating scent experiences in the Lafayette Street fragrance studio in New York City. Open seven days a week, the chic boutique offers a unique educational opportunity for both customers and brands. Customers are invited to experience each of the fragrances on tap to better understand how the fragrance works directly on their skin and to hone in on their scent preferences. Perfumarie’s clients include brands and marketers who showcase new formulations and fragrances, as well as reviving classics in the concealed taps.
“I see this as an exhibition space and a think tank,” Yang explain to Perfumer & Flavorist. The concept, a response to shaking up the traditional fragrance distribution model, is designed for brands to work on sampling and/or research campaigns for a particular perfume. The breakdown of client participation begins with up to one month of a formulation in the fragrance tap. For the next two months, the Perfumarie team gathers insight to understand and revisit variables such as formulation, branding, positioning and packaging. After the three month cycle, brands have a transparent breakdown of what variables need to be tweaked before pushing the product out again.
Consumers pay $20 to experience each of the taps with a complimentary fragrance of choice at the end of their visit. At the end of the month, they are sent an email that reveals the fragrances on tap. While the fragrances are veiled in the tap, visitors have the option of purchasing a 5 mL, 15 mL and 50 mL lab bottle. In order to participate in the sensory experience, visitors provide their information and their own notes on each of the fragrances. Within a few days, they receive a full report of their notes, along with curated emails based on their preferences of fragrances, as well as event opportunities to meet the perfumers who created their favorite scents.
Navigating a Wild West of Fragrance
The distribution channel and the traditional way of doing business has shifted. Distributors are overstocked with product in warehouses, buyers are wary of taking risks due to rapidly evolving consumer preferences and the market is oversaturated with options. Further, consumers are learning how to create their own fragrances in an attempt to have a point a view, but creating a fragrance is complex and requires knowledge of regulatory and compliance. All of these factors lead to a Wild West in fragrance and a disconnection within the value chain.
"I feel like because we have this great opportunity to speak about transparency with the industry, we should inspire everyone to get involved and move toward innovation."
“I’m just trying to build a railroad,” Yang says. “We connect consumers to distributors, press, retailers and industry all at the same time. Perfumarie is the place you go before you were born [as a perfume]. The space is neutral, and it’s for the consumers to be exactly who they want to be. No additional drivers whatsoever.”
The taps include a wide range of fragrances, including international niche brands, aroma molecules and pre-launch formulas. The diversity (and mystery) of the taps are intended to stimulate conversation, as consumers are looking to enhance their point of view; while brands are provided with honest feedback to improve the fragrance. Ultimately, the studio serves as an interactive hub between the public and industry.
“I feel like because we have this great opportunity to speak about transparency with the industry, we should inspire everyone to get involved and move toward innovation,” Yang says.
Planting a New Crop of Consumers
Taking nods from the food, flavor and hospitality industries, which welcome experiential engagement for consumer education, the potential is high for these consumers to cross into fragrance. However, there is no consumer-centric platform that is neutral, she explains. Typically, platforms that promote scent experiences are launched by one brand or one fragrance house. Yang finds that neutrality and diversity are essential in enhancing consumer engagement.
“Part of it is exhibition, the other part is events. My only job on the consumer side is to gather and bring more people into this world, and plant a new crop of consumers to expand the potential of the market.”
By expanding the industry, Perfumarie can expand along with it. The goal is to establish the New York studio as the proof-of-concept to later develop other studios around the world, and eventually inviting the whole industry to work together. The studio has over a thousand members in its database with a 30% return visit rate (compared to an average of 5% in traditional retail).
“It’s really about empowering consumer choice, point of view, immersion and education so that we can expand the market together,” Yang says.
The space is designed for the sensory adventurer, so consumers can take time for their fragrances to settle into the skin before making a decision. “If you are spending $20 and the time to fill out this form, you’re taking this seriously,” Yang says. “Consumers will come in and try out each fragrance, some on skin. And when exploring the studio, everything is a part of the story. They’re having fun and when the dry down happens, they pick their favorites and go home with the one they love.”
The consumer experience accounts for multiple layers of interaction from ordering methods (online, phone or in-store) to measuring consumer engagement after the fragrance is unveiled and shown in a retail setting.
“It’s using big data and respecting individual preferences. This is the only way that you can empower them to choose.”
Yang add, “When you see the fragrance in its bottle, how does that affect your purchase? Will you call us to order? Visit the store? Is the price point too low? Too high? All of this information is accounted for and if the brand is sponsoring a tap, this information will be sent to them for further brand development.”
Respecting Individual Preferences
As some of the world’s influential consumers in beauty and personal care, Millennials and Gen Z’ers, are key drivers. However, to Yang it’s not about generational preferences, despite the studio’s best customers to be under 35 years old.
“Each consumer comes in with different cultural and personal preferences,” she says. “It’s using big data and respecting individual preferences. This is the only way that you can empower them to choose.”
Just for perspective, #selfcare boasts over 4.5 million posts and #wellness has over 16 million posts, both on Instagram. To narrow it down further, the global fragrance market is expected to be worth $92 billion by 2024a, with perfume reaching $49 billion by 2022b. What does this tell us? Not only is the need for wellness products growing, but consumers ultimately want to know more about themselves and how to manage their health. This knowledge includes a consumers’ growing interest for raw materials and provenance.
Balancing the line between consumer engagement and savvy marketing, Yang’s business model is rooted in sharing products that are developed mindfully for a conscious consumer. “We’re so busy marketing and telling people what to think, instead of being respectful of what they want, and their own relationship with what they encounter.”
“You’re empowered to learn about different raw materials and how to use this opportunity to unlock those scent memories and time travel,” Yang says passionately. “When people come together into the store and they smell these scents, all of a sudden this rare intimacy happens, this sharing happens and therapy, healing sometimes happens. It’s an honor to be present during those moments, and we send them home with that scent so they can sit with it, make peace with that memory, that feeling.”