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Fragrances: Fortune Tellers

By continually nosing out new and innovative fragrances from around the world, Luckyscent.com has created a path to growth in an otherwise shrinking category.

By continually nosing out new and innovative fragrances from around the world, Luckyscent.com has created a path to growth in an otherwise shrinking category

 

Adam Eastwood and Franco Wright set out to revolutionize the world, but they didn’t expect to do it in the fragrance category. The founders of LuckyScent.com, a leading online retailer of niche scents, Eastwood and Wright started their careers as Web designers at a small firm in Venice, Calif. Unhappy with the overly complicated sites they were being tasked with producing, the duo started their own company, Design Garden, to create sites that were pared down, restrained and easy to navigate.

 

Although they scored high-profile clients—Toshiba, Physicians Formula and Dun & Bradstreet, to name a few—they weren’t winning the battle for design approachability. To do that, they decided to create their own site. Wright, an off-hours retail and product enthusiast, noticed Kai, a perfume oil roll-on, was a hit with celebrities and the media. Despite the hype, it was difficult to find outside of Los Angeles. “We had a thought bubble,” recalls Wright, sitting alongside Eastwood in the duo’s 3,000-square-foot Los Angeles headquarters where they labor at desks threefeet apart. “We could do something with this. The rollons are small. We could house them in our office. We build Web sites. Let’s build our own.” LuckyScent.com went live in October 2002. Its online fragrance shopping format immediately struck a chord—and continues to do so. The Web site and Scent Bar, an affiliated closet-sized shop in Los Angeles, are estimated by industry sources to have generated $3million in sales last year, a figure expected to climb by about 6 percent this year.

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The site has an e-mail list of about 50,000; California, New York and New Jersey are the top three states where its shoppers reside. “LuckyScent continues to grow because more and more people are discovering what we’re doing,” says Eastwood. “We find things that we think are worthy. We bring them to people and help them find things they are looking for. We have a really loyal customer base. We don’t have a great deal of overhead, and we’re not pushing harder to sell things to people.” LuckyScent.com’s sales gains are far above the industry average for the prestige fragrance category: For the first quarter of this year, The NPD Group reports sales of prestige fragrances in U.S. department stores fell 7 percent to $424 million from the same quarter a year before.

 

For 2008, they were down 6 percent from the prior year to nearly $2.7 billion. Much of LuckyScent’s success can be attributed to its eclectic brand lineup. Over the past seven years, the site has gone from carrying some eight brands to stocking over 1,050 fragrance items from 300 brands. There’s also a smattering of candles, bath, body and skin care and artisinal teas. Best-selling brands include Monyette Paris, Le Labo, By Killian, Escentric Molecules and Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561. “Our customers need more than just a pretty floral fragrance,” says Eastwood. “One of the complaints people have about the mass market brands is that they’ve been focus grouped.

 

Whatever’s selling, they all start to echo that same thing. So, we have fragrances like one from Comme des Garçons that’s the smell of a garage. I love anything that will take a chance.” Today, Eastwood occupies the numbers guy role, while Wright largely handles sniffi ng out the latest, most interesting products from around the world. He scours stores, devours magazines and Web sites and gets tips from in-the-know industry sources to unearth unique scents. “Franco is an amazing treasure hunter,” says Tristan Brando, founder of the Los Angeles-based brand Monyette Paris. “He just gets it and knows what is great from the get-go.

 

When he discovers something, a dozen other sites copy it.” In the last few years, Europe has proven to be especially fertile hunting ground for Wright. Wode, a scent by the design house Boudicca, and Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561, already a bestseller, are recent discoveries. “We found Farmacia in a traditional apothecary,” says Wright. “It has a million body products, skin care regimens, lip balms, body oils and this little perfume line that is just sort of there on the side. We honed in on that.” It hasn’t always been easy getting the Europeans onboard with selling virtually. The duo opened Scent Bar about four years ago in part to demonstrate to fragrance houses that LuckyScent.com wasn’t a flyby-night operation.

 

Most of the remaining holdouts have been pushed online by the economic conditions affecting traditional retail. “The [Internet] stigma is completely disappearing,” Eastwood says. “Two years ago, there were brands that didn’t want to speak with us. They’re calling us now.” Brands aren’t only calling—they’re launching products and creating special editions for LuckyScent.

 

Last December, an exclusive from Indult called Rêve En Cuir by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian was introduced. A limited edition Attar perfume oil is slated for September or October, while L’Artisan Parfumeur will be unveiling a Los Angeles-inspired scent, probably in November. Perfumers such as Brando, Maria McElroy from Aroma M, Yosh Han and Sarah Horowitz have all concocted scents for a special series labeled Untitled.  Franco and Wright have also evolved the way fragrance is sold online.

 

The site was one of the first to sell samples, priced from $3 to $8, while more recently the duo added a feature that enables users to identify fragrances by perfumer across brands. The fragrance descriptions are equally as innovative. Rather than a recitation of a scent’s notes, the feeling of a product is captured. Kai is called “devastatingly feminine, dangerously flirtatious,” Penhaligon’s Opus 1870 is “the log fire of our fragrances, something you want to be next to,” while Aroma M’s Geisha Green roll-on is a “hypnotic metrosexual aperitif.” “The descriptions are cheeky, but still get all the basics down,” says Brando. “It is definitely not nose-upin-the-air shopping. It’s almost like a good friend or someone who you think is very cool telling you about their latest discovery.” Going forward, Eastwood and Wright would consider bringing on a larger partner to provide scale to LuckyScent.com. But they assert they are too committed to uncovering fragrance gems to leave the picture.

 

For now, they’re committed to discovering innovation and streamlining the site to make the shopping experience as effortless as possible. “We take fragrance seriously, but we don’t take it so seriously that it becomes unapproachable for a customer to purchase or get into,” says Wright. “We bring it down to earth. We try to have fun at the end of the day.”