The smell of success

Lately, it seems you don't have to be anywhere near a garden to stop and smell the roses.

Smell is the latest way that businesses are attempting to woo customers, whether it be the scented candles at Hampden shop In Watermelon Sugar, the vanilla and cloves wafting through the air at Williams-Sonoma, or the pungent smell of colognes at trendy clothing chains.

Technology to spread the scents have become more elaborate and includes a device that pumps fragrances through ventilation systems. And it's all in an effort to create scent branding that helps to attract and keep customers.

It worked on Tracy Spence, a nurse anesthetist from Evergreen, who was shopping recently at In Watermelon Sugar for a birthday gift for her child's nanny when she became sidetracked. "It smells so good in here!" she exclaimed.

Spence immediately switched directions and began looking for the source. "It smells a little woodsy and like a seaside cottage — fresh and clean, It smells really good. Oh, and there are floral notes. What is that?" Spence asked saleswoman Tea Erbe.

Erbe is used to customers frequently commenting on the pleasant smell of the home goods store. Leslie Stevenson, owner of In Watermelon Sugar, has been burning Votivo brand candles for the past 10 years because of their long-lasting and alluring aroma. The candles, which cost $26, burn about 50 hours.

Stevenson switches scents depending on the season. During the holidays, she used the spruce-and-rosemary Joie de Noel scent. The rest of the winter months, she alternates between Moroccan figs, amberwood and teak. During the summer months, she burns honeysuckle, red currant, island grapefruit and deep clover.

"I try not to go overboard," Stevenson said about the intensity of the candles. "Most people do enjoy having a store that smells good. It helps get people in the mood. It sets the tone."

ScentAir Technologies Inc, a company based in Charlotte, N.C., that specializes in devices that deliver scents in businesses, including several in Baltimore, is experiencing what it calls a "golden age" in scent branding. Their client list includes Ashley Furniture, Jimmy Choo, Bloomingdale's, Lexus, Hugo Boss and some major hotel chains.

"Nobody ever asks you to stop and hear the roses. There's a reason for that; what we provide helps our clients more deeply connect with their customers by utilizing the power of scent," said Ed Burke, director of marketing at ScentAir.

Services typically start at about $100 per month and can increase, depending on factors such as the amount of fragrance needed for a space and the number of locations where the fragrance is used.

Choosing the right fragrance for a business is more than just picking a smell its owner might like.

"The color, decor, the overall aesthetic plays a role," Burke said, adding that subtlety is key. "Too much of any good thing is too much."

He said some companies overpower customers, bombarding them with scents. "That is not the way to successfully deliver fragrance in that environment," Burke said.

While he doesn't agree with the delivery, he understands the intent. The demographic for those companies' customers "is ages 12-24. They like much, much heavier stimulation — strong fragrance and loud music. It's very dramatic," he said. "But it turns off a huge customer base."

Hotels, which have been using scent branding for the better part of the past decade, typically get it right, according to Burke.

"Now, just about every hotel chain has a signature program," Burke said. "There is a real critical mass." Westin Hotels even has its own signature fragrance, White Tea.

At Hotel Monaco in downtown Baltimore, guests are treated to the Kimpton scent — created, like Westin's, by the hotel chain. The fragrance is described as soft citrus notes that give way to green tea, the spiciness of black pepper and cloves wrapped in a blanket of musk.

"I notice the citrus," said Ben Timashenka, general manager of Hotel Monaco. "The citrus and green tea comes through to me."

At Hotel Monaco, "air machines" are located outside the guest elevators and near the main lobby area.

"It's part of the arrival experience," Timashenka said. "It's pleasant when you walk off the elevator. We don't want to overwhelm our guests — there's just a hint."

When Daniel Wylie opened his menswear boutique last year, he wanted shoppers to have a complete experience. He intended to make Sixteen Tons an inviting space where customers felt comfortable while shopping. That meant appealing to their senses.

The store smells like a combination of tobacco and cedar, with slight hints of amber and honey. To get the scent, Wylie uses the same brand of candles as In Watermelon Sugar.

In fact, that's where he restocks his supply.

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