Sunday, January 22, 2012
White Tea Scent Makes the Sales?
Think you're a hardheaded, value-conscious, rational consumer? You're being led around by the nose. Literally.
Marketers increasingly are using fragrance to stamp hotels with signature scents, soothe customers in supermarket checkout lines and generally try to get us to hang out longer, feel more comfortable and, of course, spend more money.
And a key participant in this growing niche is a little-known Milwaukee firm. Prolitec Inc., the latest venture of longtime area entrepreneur Richard Weening, supplies thousands of clients worldwide with sophisticated devices that waft micron-sized, aromatic liquid droplets through hotel lobbies, casinos and trendy clothing stores.
Tucked away in the Menomonee Valley, the company employs 34 people here and is looking at bringing in additional manufacturing work that Weening said could add more than 50 jobs. Beyond Milwaukee, some 89 salespeople work exclusively to push Prolitec's services in the United States and abroad.
"There's a lot of research on this topic," Weening said of the field of scent marketing, "but if you boil it down to its essence, people like to be in pleasant-smelling places better than they like to be in places that aren't pleasant-smelling."
His company is there to help.
The fragrance that hits you as you try not to stare at the photos of buff, half-bare prepsters inside Abercrombie & Fitch? Prolitec.
The subtle, manly, sandalwood scent infusing the public areas of the Iron Horse Hotel? Ditto.
And the aroma, dubbed "Woodlands," that hovers discreetly in the main lobby at Potawatomi Bingo Casino? You guessed it.
Those are just a few among a growing roster of customers who typically pay $200 to $6,000 a month, sometimes more, for Prolitec's equipment and services, Weening said.
"A lot of people who do ambient scenting don't advertise that they do it," he said. ". . .We have a lot of customers who won't allow us to speak about them at all."
They might not be talking, but marketing consultants have been buzzing about the trend, and it is the subject of a small but growing body of scholarly research.
"The basic thing we've learned is that scents do make a difference," said frequently cited researcher Eric Spangenberg, a marketing professor and dean of the College of Business at Washington State University.
A study he co-authored in 2006 found that women spent significantly more when a clothing store was infused with vanilla, a "feminine" scent, than they did when the store was filled with the aroma of rose maroc - perceived as masculine. Men, on the other hand, spent more when the store had a rose-maroc scent than when it smelled like vanilla.
Australian scholars, meanwhile, found in a 2010 study that a combination of aroma and loud music increased the pleasure - and presumably the spending - of shoppers at a store targeting teen girls and young women.
Not everyone is so sure about this. Two English researchers recently found no effect from scent on shopper behavior, and a 2010 paper by professors at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said academic research has provided "scant confirmation" of the power of aroma to influence purchasing decisions.
But there's no question that retailers and others are embracing scent appeal as one more way to connect with customers emotionally.
And emotion figures enormously in consumer decisions, Spangenberg said. The consumer may not realize it, but the retailer does.
"They're very aware," he said. ". . .That's really what they're working on all the time."
In a sense, wooing customers with fragrance is nothing new. Think of the smell of bread just out of the oven in a house up for sale, or a whiff of patchouli oil in an old hippie store. The big differences now are prevalence and technological sophistication.
The fragrance droplets emitted by Prolitec's devices are one-fiftieth the diameter of a human hair - so tiny that, unlike the contents of a typical aerosol spray, they float in the air, Weening said.
The output can be remotely controlled by computer, as it is at the 28 Aegis Assisted Living communities on the West Coast, where Prolitec supplies and disperses a delicate floral fragrance called "Serenity."
It's a lavender-chamomile mix, but that's almost imperceptible. Instead, said Aegis President Jerry Meyer, who believes the scent reduces stress, you simply experience "the sensation of a fresh, clean environment."
That's key in assisted living centers. Also in heavily used public restrooms, where Prolitec deploys odor-eating equipment and chemicals.
"This is by far one system that actually does work," said Andy Ginsburg, a hotel-and-casino facilities director in Las Vegas, where he installed Prolitec devices at the Mirage. "Not the cheapest system out there, but it's a quality product."
Prolitec's airborne chemicals are effective at as little as one part per million - well below levels that would raise toxicity or allergy concerns, Weening said. The key is that the firm's minuscule droplets collectively provide an enormous amount of surface area to deliver a fragrance punch, he said. No one else produces micron-sized droplets, he said, and that capability is the essence of a crucial patent Prolitec holds.
The company's other patents include one on what amounts to a billboard you can smell, and a pending application on a device that emits an airborne disinfectant - a market Weening believes holds strong promise.
But for now it's odor control and, particularly, scent marketing that attract attention. The uses are everywhere.
Not all supermarkets, for example, bake bread or grind coffee on site. But grocery stores served by Prolitec partner Adergy Inc., a marketing firm out of Gulf Breeze, Fla., can tempt customers with chemically generated coffee or fresh-baked bread aromas, not to mention the fragrance of buttered popcorn at the DVD display.
Also useful, according to Adergy vice president LeeAnn Taylor: clean smells - think freshly washed linen - to soothe customers at the cash register.
"It's calming," Taylor said. ". . .They're less likely to be agitated if they have to wait for two customers in front of them."
Casinos and hotels are big users of scent marketing and scent branding.
Westin Hotels perfume their lobbies with "White Tea," a fragrance supplied by North Carolina-based Scent Air, which jousts with Prolitec for the claim to being the largest company in the ambient-aroma field.
The "crisp, young tea fragrance" helps Westin in its goal of defining itself as a hotel that offers guests "a stylish and very comfortable, almost rejuvenating experience," ScentAir marketing director Ed Burke said.
Crisp young tea wouldn't exactly fit the image of Milwaukee's Iron Horse. Instead, the Harley-oriented hotel carved out of a former warehouse in Walker's Point opted for a warm, woodsy scent.
Spokeswoman Brigette Breitenbach said Prolitec dubbed the custom fragrance "Boutique Noir," but "we just kind of refer to it as the Iron Horse scent."
Whatever, it has proved popular enough that the hotel is considering selling lotion, candles and such with the same aroma.
Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago has Prolitec equipment in all 44 of its stores, perfuming them with a honeysuckle-orange fragrance created to be the organization's "signature scent," vice president for retail Billie Torrentt said.
And Potawatomi began using its "woodsy herbal smell" from Prolitec in the high-rollers section, assistant facilities director Dave Emmerich said, then spread it to other areas of the casino, including the lobby, where it greets high- and low-rollers alike.
The intended message?
"It's supposed to give you a scent of having arrived somewhere," Emmerich said.
Let the good smells roll.