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Jo Malone’s Second Act Shakes Up How Fragrances Are Sold

A passion for being a shop keeper helps Jo Malone build another fragrance brand.

Jo Malone, founder and creative director of Jo Loves, is out to change the fragrance business one “tapas” at a time.

To do so, she’s aiming to employ the passion, resilience and creativity that helped her build her first fragrance company, Jo Malone, into a business purchased by The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. in 1999. She said those qualities are crucial for small and medium-sized enterprises.

A series of events, including a cancer diagnosis, pushed Malone back to her roots as a shopkeeper. On her 49th birthday, her husband presented her with a package she thought might be diamonds. Instead it was a key to a store and he encouraged her to “go be a shopkeeper again because you are an absolute bloody nightmare.”

After all, it was shopkeeping that changed her life. The first time was when she went to work at 16 years old for a food shop on Elizabeth Street in London. There she learned a passion for building relationships with customers. That inspired her to devise her first fragrance, Nutmeg and Ginger, formulated in her kitchen using four plastic jugs and two saucepans. Next, she opened her first shop, leaving her with only 100 pounds in her pocket. On opening day, she was offered $1 million dollars for the business. “I declined because there was a much better offer down the road. But something said to me what I was doing was so special.” The better offer came from Estée Lauder years after.

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Fast-forward, Malone is back in the same shop on Elizabeth Street in London where she had her first job hoping to rewrite the rules again. She returned to her kitchen to concoct one of her latest signature scents, Pomelo. The store, Jo Loves, serves fragrance in a theatrical and entertaining manner with “shots” and fragrance tapas where people can select four courses “for their nose.” She also created a patented customized Shot Candle.

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The format encourages consumers to be part of the creation of their own fragrance, something she finds important to Millennials. “They want to be part of the process,” she said. “They don’t just want to be your consumer, they want to create with you.” On any day, the store bustles with more than 120 visitors — including multigenerations trying out the unique tapas sampling process, which she said drives 97 percent conversion to purchase rates.

Her drive to change the paradigm in fragrance recently hatched the idea of using a brush to paint on scents. “Innovations don’t knock on our door,” advised Malone. “We need to be inspired. When the world is turning one way, an indie brand will turn the other.”

Her brand is booming with expansion plans on tap in the Middle East and U.S., among others. She admitted it hasn’t been easy. “Had I known how tough those first few years would have been, I would have never had done it. I made every mistake in the book, but I knew the integrity in the bottle was right. Now I’m glad I didn’t quit. I advise people to never quit on a bad day.”