LONDON — Spritz-and-sell tactics may be the norm in department stores, duty-free shops and some specialist retailers but Michelle Feeney, a former Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. and PZ Cussons executive and founder and owner of the indie fragrance brand Floral Street, is having none of it.
The beauty industry marketer-turned-entrepreneur believes there are swathes of women who are as curious about fragrance as they are about fine wine, exotic tea or artisanal cheese, and want to study and research before they purchase and make their decisions based on more than just a name or a sexy ad campaign.
Feeney also wanted an experience that was inclusive, rather than exclusive, and for customers to build a collection without having to take out a mortgage. With that in mind, Floral Street was born as a collection of eight floral fragrances created with Robertet, the French fragrance and flavor manufacturer that specializes in using natural raw materials.
Prices range from 12 pounds for a discovery set of eight to 20 pounds for a 10-ml. spritzer to 55 pounds for a 50-ml. bottle.
Central to Feeney’s idea was a flagship store where customers could spend time sniffing, sampling, learning about dry down — and finding out what scent suits them — with help from educated shop assistants.
She also wanted the experience to be low-pressure and affordable, hence Floral Street’s offer of products such as scented notebooks, body creams and washes, and home fragrances, which are all available at the brand’s flagship on King Street in London and on the web site.
“I was looking at the way food is now and the interest in craft beers and gins and how you can become a connoisseur of cheese and chocolate, coffee and tea. I thought, ‘Why haven’t we done this with fragrance?’ I wanted customers to engage with fragrance like they do with food and drink,” Feeney said.
She also questioned why many fragrance brands shy away from bringing education – beyond describing a few ingredients – into a customer experience. “When I was looking at how I was going to realize the brand, I looked at how others were doing it and it was all about the spritz, ‘Do you like it? Don’t you like it?’ and move on.”
Feeney said she was inspired by niche fragrance brands and the way they operate their boutiques, but didn’t want her products or experiences to be too expensive for most customers.
The store, which spans 600 square feet, is located in Covent Garden, a hub of both high-end and high street beauty brands. Floral Street’s apron-clad shop assistants stand ready to take customers on an olfactory tour across the eight fragrances and encourage them to live with their chosen scent for a few hours — or even a few days — before they make a purchase.
If customers want to spend time learning, assistants ask them to sniff the main notes that go into each fragrance, which have names like Neon Rose, Wonderland Peony, Ylang Ylang Espresso, London Poppy and Iris Goddess.
The assistants are all trained by Robertet and have learned about how fragrances are made, what constitutes an eau de parfum and why the same scent can smell very different on two people. The assistants are also equipped to host scent schools for groups and parties and to help a bride plan how her wedding might smell.
The assistants can also talk about how the scent can alter on the same person during the day with some notes fading and others coming to the fore, and the 20 percent oil content in the Floral Street fragrances, which makes them last longer.
In the hot weather that London has been experiencing, they’ve also been doling out advice on how to wear and store fragrances. (Keep them in the fridge and they last forever.)
“I wanted it to re-create what MAC had originally created to be the makeup experience, to be doing that for the customer in fragrance,” said Feeney, who worked at MAC in the U.S. as vice president of global communications.
“It was an expert selling to you, educating you, making you up. It was a very playful and interactive process. It was the hourlong makeup service they were giving — to sell a lipstick. I’ve learned from that and I thought why we weren’t doing it in fragrance?”
Feeney is adamant about how Floral Street should and should not be sold: “We are not here to spritz you. I am anti-spritz, and against what I call ‘scent slavery,’ which means someone standing in front of a set of shelves trying to capture customers. We just wanted a more modern way of doing things and for this business to be based around words, feelings and emotions.”
The shop has a simple layout, with the walls covered in tiles made from the same recyclable white pulp as Floral Street’s packaging. The floor, and the assistants’ aprons, are covered in the flower mural print created by photographer Matthew Donaldson for the brand.
Customers can sit at the long, oval central counter and spend time testing the fragrances or just grab their favorites, make up their own boxes, and go. The space itself is light and bright and looks onto King Street at the front, and into the courtyard of the new Petersham Nurseries café, restaurant and shop at the back.
Feeney said while the shop is customer-centric and the ultimate iteration of the brand experience, it also serves as a test lab for her own team.
“It’s where we learn about customers from all over the world. It is our window on the world — and we’ve had every buyer and every brand in here,” she said, adding that a flagship store “does not have to mean massive, it can be quite small, too. It just has to tell you a story.”
While the flagship may embody the brand and serve as a playground for customers and assistants alike, Floral Street is taking other routes to market. Last October, the company launched at Harvey Nichols exclusively and also sells via its brand web site.
Feeney has imminent plans to roll the fragrances out to John Lewis in the U.K.; Mecca, the Australian beauty retailer, and other outlets internationally, including the U.S. She’s also planning a debut on QVC in the U.K., and a three-month pop-up at Westfield London.
She wants to offer a “scent school,” online and is planning two more fragrances, one that will be created in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society.
All of Floral Street’s points of sale, she said, will offer the “edu-tainment” angle, with no spritz-happy salespeople allowed.