Making sense of the business of scents

2013-12-22T05:45:00Z 2013-12-22T06:29:40Z Making sense of the business of scents missoulian.com

They say coffee won the Civil War. The North had it. The South ran out.

Buy that or not, a century and a half later the fresh roasted aroma is a proven winner for readers and, more important, sales of books.

You can smell the java as you read this, right?

“It’s kind of like certain songs that bring up thoughts, emotions, memories, you know? It’s the same with smells,” Ian Haddad said on one of Missoula’s first true winter days.

He was behind the counter at Liquid Planet in Trempers Shopping Center, where his family has operated The Book Exchange for a couple of decades and more.

Readers react, Haddad said.

“They smell good coffee and they think of maybe a nice, lazy, snowy day like this. It’s a good day to get coffee and relax with a book.”

But perhaps local alliances like Liquid Planet and The Book Exchange, and national chain store bedfellows like Barnes & Noble and Starbucks are missing the boat?

A recent study in Belgium indicated the smell of chocolate (take me there!) in a bookstore increases sales – especially of romance and food-related books, which jumped 40 percent. It also makes customers twice as likely to look at more than one book.

“And then five minutes before closing, light up those fart machines,” quipped a commenter named Leper, below a story on the study by the Huffington Post.

Shoppers flooding stores and other businesses of western Montana this Christmas shopping season would do well to mind what their noses are (and aren’t) telling them.

“Paying attention to smell supports your brand and traditional marketing efforts with longevity, interactivity and more emotional engagement with customers, while at the same time creating a unique suite of signature touches that can’t be replicated by a competitor,” Jeff Stephens wrote a few years ago.

Stephens is CEO and brand director of Creative Brand Communications, described as a “multisensory and experiential brand development agency” in Portland, Ore. His audience for this article? Banks and bankers.

Scoff if your sense of bank scents revolves around gas fumes at the drive-up window. But at least turn off your engine when you do.

A bank and the smell of coffee make for a particular memory for Haddad. As the manager of Liquid Planet, he’s brewing lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and teas all day, every work day. The essence of caffeine has become so ingrained he doesn’t even notice it.

But others do.

“I actually had a bank teller one time tell me, ‘You smell like really good coffee,’ ” Haddad said. “Then she saw where the check was from and it was like: Oh. That makes sense.”

***

Realtors have long understood that good smells help sell homes.

First, however, it’s important to eliminate the bad ones – the mold, smoke, pet odors and the like.

“I’ve had buyers turn around and walk right out because of the smell,” said Mary Louise Zapp Knapp of Lambros Real Estate in Missoula.

Then it becomes a matter of cosmetics, “of tuning into the sensitivities of people,” she said. “Realtors will suggest to sellers when you’re having a showing or an open house to bake something – bread or chocolate chip cookies.”

Potpourri, scented candles, atomizers or lemon-scented cleaning solutions can enhance a home’s marketability – as long as they’re not trying to cover up the bad stuff. The nose knows the difference, Zapp Knapp said.

Peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus or grapefruit at, say, an upscale condo or loft tend to foster alertness and mental clarity for young buyers. For older homes, a real estate blog suggests lavender mixed with citrus to provide a calm, relaxed ambiance.

“The bottom line is, yes, you want it to smell pretty,” Zapp Knapp said. “But if you look at different scents and the different chemicals they’re comprised of, we psychologically equate that to mean something. If something’s lemon-scrubbed it’s fresh, it’s clean. Clorox is clean but it sure doesn’t smell good.”

Multisensory marketing goes beyond the visual staging and the appropriate audio levels of music, hum or chatter. Stephens said a branding fragrance “can tap into the built-in mechanism that lives inside us all.”

Think of the smell as you walk into a tire store.

Into a hardware store.

A western shop.

A movie theater.

Kmart.

Victoria’s Secret.

How was that for a sensory tweaking roller-coaster ride?

***

From corner to corner there’s a pleasant, lightly spiced, not-quite-identifiable fragrance in the Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts store in the Holiday Village Shopping Center

Shelly Harris, a seasonal clerk, took a sniff and then a guess as she folded a bolt of cloth. It’s the “amazing” scented pine cones at the front of the store, she ventured.

Do store managers plan it that way?

“If they do, they don’t tell me,” Harris replied.

Sleep Number, a bed and mattress store in Southgate Mall, is purposefully not scent branded.

“We’re not allowed to do something like that,” said sleep professional Lucas Thompson. “The corporate stand is (leave it) as it is.”

And that would be?

“I guess you could say the new-bed smell,” Thompson mused.

It’s trumped in the mall by more delicious aromas from the gourmet frozen yogurt shop across the way and the rice and noodles vendor next door.

“Typically the main smell I get when I walk in here every day is going to be the waffles from the Roxiberry or from Noodles Express,” said Thompson. “We just smell like noodles, in a sense.”

Bhavana doesn’t sell hot cider, but that’s a discernible part of the holiday fragrance at the new home décor store in downtown Missoula. Shoppers can sip the warming beverage or simply inhale and enjoy.

“The cinnamon and cloves make for a wonderful aroma in the store, just as they do in one’s home,” noted Tommy Petersen, who with partner Kim Richardson opened the store at 101 E. Broadway in June. “People actually comment on it, that it smells so good in here.”

And it’s not just the cider. Fire codes prohibit flickering candles, but the aromatic wild juniper, mint and jasmine candles are noticeable to the nose and “very invigorating,” Petersen said.

Richardson pointed out that Bhavana’s bed throws, covers and pillows are made in the U.S. but of fabric from India.

“They have a certain kind of very positive smell and aroma that’s very different and, we think, kind of unique to Bhavana,” Petersen said.

***

The champion of passive scent marketing in Missoula is Rockin’ Rudy’s. The offbeat “record”-and-more store in the Slant Street district has been around since the early 1990s but it has a way of hurtling you back to the ’70s as you walk through the door.

A visitor from the cold is met not only by a blast of warmth from the heating fan overhead but a strong whiff of what Rockin’ Rudy’s has always been about. It’s based on the funky packaged incense for sale near the back wall.

“We haven’t really put it into business terms, other than we like it, and the fact that people recognize it,” owner Bruce Micklus said. “In the summertime people will walk in the door who obviously haven’t been here for years. They don’t even get past the first rug there, and they’ll say, ‘Ahh, it smells the same.’

“So you know they’ve identified Rockin’ Rudy’s with this smell that emanates from our incense.”

The ponytailed Micklus, Missoula’s shorts man for all seasons, will send a T- or sweat shirt from the store to his kids for the holidays or birthdays.

“I don’t notice it because I’m here all the time, but to them it smells like Rockin’ Rudy’s,” he said. “It gives them the sense of being back in Missoula, and Rockin’ Rudy’s is one of the Missoula things.”

Before there was Rockin’ Rudy’s at 237 Blaine St. there was an entirely different olfactory sensation.

Micklus wasn’t around when the landmark Eddy’s Bread bakery was here. If you follow him up the stairs of the old loading ramp, past the “fragrance corner” where the Burt’s Bees and other perfumes are displayed, he’ll point out where the ovens emitted their heady bread bouquet for more than 60 years.

“I was never here to verify it but people would always say things like, ‘I lived in the neighborhood three blocks away and I could smell whenever they were baking,’ ” Micklus said.

Science tells us smell and memory are so closely linked because the olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. Eddy’s Bread is a thing of the past, but for generations of Missoulians its smell is forever.

Who knows? Someone reading and smelling this right now might be tempted to pay a visit to a neighborhood bakery, for old times’ sake. Chances are the coffee’s on too. Remember, it’s what saved the Union.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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