Can Artistic Perfumery Blossom inside Specialty Stores?

2021 . 02 . 03 | written by Laurence Arrigo Klove

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Artistic perfumery is a beautiful world that attracts more and more the attention of clients who want to enjoy a special experience, full of emotions, art, and beauty. Something special and unique like enjoying a glass of wine from a vineyard run by a family business dedicated to quality and craftsmanship or a piece of cheese matured slowly over time in the cellars of a cheese shop passionate expert. The customer experience is usually excellent and therefore memorable. This winning proposition drives clients inside the shops and thus delivers a good level of sales.
Traditionally, artistic perfumery was only accessible within a selective distribution network and inside dedicated perfume shops. Nowadays, with this customer success in mind, many specialty stores all around the world have introduced this perfume segment into their overall perfume offering.

The question at stake here is how can specialty stores specifically address the uniqueness of those artistic brands into their retail space. Is it at all possible? Does it work? The answer is absolutely yes provided one follows a certain line of policy. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts collected from key learnings across multiple markets and a variety of specialty stores.

The article’s intention is to remain neutral. On purpose, there is no mention either positively or negatively of a specialty store that has been assessed. The article simply provides an opinion based on key success factors registered in different locations. The reader might naturally have a different angle or additional recommendations to be made.

Without further ado, let’s focus on the best way to integrate artistic brands into a specialty store retail space:

Doing nothing specific is a no-go approach: by doing nothing different, naturally one kills the unique value proposition that one was aiming to offer to its clients. You do not want to buy a gold nugget within a vast choice of fake jewels. The brands will be unnoticed and lost within the overall beauty offer. Also, the price point being generally higher, customers might even be even more convinced to stick to the mass market brands. The ones they know of thanks to large advertising campaigns, the ones considered low risk. It would be like asking a client to decipher a text from an unknown language without giving any translating tool. It is guessing work at best, or simply rejection. Customers won’t understand what the difference is between artistic and commercial perfumery so sales won’t follow suit and brands will be kicked out. To make it worse, a high brand rotation is costly for the specialty store. We all know that profitability matters more so than ever particularly in the tough times retail is in, and square meters must deliver profits. Ultimately, this is the lose scenario nobody wants to fall into. Both the specialty store and the end-client lose. Double negative hit.

Instead, one needs to find ways to create a win-win model for both parties:
• On the one hand, for the specialty store itself in terms of profits and differentiation from the competition, the idea being to have unique brands that competitors do not have.
• On the other hand, for the end-client in terms of quality of the brand on offer and the retail experience.

Is there a way to crack the formula? Absolutely yes. Here is a list of 8 key recommendations, a to do’s list, by no means exhaustive but substantial enough:

Space must be separate: a dedicated area within the retail space of the specialty store has to be created. A natural separation from the mainstream brands is a must. Oxygen for the artistic brands and customers is key. One has to be able to see all the artistic expression of the brand, so it usually requires a different merchandising, one that gives a sense of beauty, that showcases the perfume bottle or any other aspect of the creative story in a beautiful way. In one high-end specialty store, each week, one brand finances a stunning flower bouquet while showcasing its perfumes collection in a prime spot, on a grand display table at the entrance of the artistic perfume area. In one word, make it special – you can read in reverse the paragraph here above ‘doing nothing specific’.

Space must have a calculated ideal number of brands: in that designated area, one needs to know what the minimum and maximum number of brands is to be placed. If they are too many brands, it can turn into an unbearable cacophony, a noisy Tower of Babel. The customer will simply not be able to make any choice even with the best advice available. Too daunting. On the contrary, if there is no sufficient brands choice, not enough variety, the customer might be turned off. It will be as if we would be forcing her/him to like only the blue color, or coffee, but what if the client prefers yellow and tea instead? Before the brand selection is made, the specialty store needs to know inside out his client base, what they like today, what they wish for, what their expectations are for tomorrow.

Space must accept different levels of brands profitability: one thing to outline is the 80-20 rule which works once again in this model. Namely, 80% of the income will come from 20% of brands - or SKUs. The remaining 80% of brands, will showcase to the customer the breadth of range and will give a strong identity to the store. So, some slow movers will not be immediately considered ‘losers’ and therefore eliminated. For example, in case of a brand that just came out on the market, naturally one cannot expect the same level of immediate returns than a more established one. Yet having that brand may prove beneficial to the overall sales of the store by showing to end-clients the capacity to dig out new perfume jewels. One only needs to be very careful in terms of minimizing financial stock immobilization. This calculated choice upfront is also critical when one decides where to place the brands within the retail space and how much space is allocated to each one. It is like a puzzle or a chess. Different versions – moves have been envisaged before the best option is figured out. Then, once again, over time, new moves will be made.

Space must be impeccable and constantly upgraded: product presentations tests, brand rotation within the designated space, merchandising style, placement of products, testers, brand blotters, point of sales displays, all this needs to be assessed. Based on results, customers feedback, new solutions may be implemented. Attention to detail is key and the game never ends. Space needs to give a sense of beauty, of something different, possibly of luxury. Whatever the concept style chosen, it needs to look perfect, the opposite of a sloppy area, ‘mas o menos’ approach. If one aims to be an expert, then it needs to show visibly in merchandising perfection.

Space must be both alive and comfortable: one that allows to host events, meeting with the creators, to have fun but also to slow down the time and sit comfortably if one feels like it. One must feel more inside a concept store than in a shop. Time is for ‘Slow Perfume' and patience is needed. May be on the first visit, no sales will be concluded, maybe it will happen during a second visit. May be it will happen with a subsequent click on the web site, referred as ‘showrooming’, that is absolutely fine of course, as well as refilling, the online purchase of the same product acquired firsthand in the retail shop.

Space alive with competent stable staff: competence is judged on 3 levels; on the artistic perfume brands, on perfumery in general and on quality of service. If the customer wants self-service no problem. But she/he usually says it initially but then as soon as she/he feels in the right place online with her/his expectations then expectations are 100% hands-on Full Service. Stressed business people are even more excessive in this matter. Within just a few seconds, they decide to leave or stay. If the store perfume advisor is on top, sharp, quick to understand their needs, the super-stressed, rushed business people drop their guard and all of a sudden listen carefully and patiently to the recommendations given. Purchases will not only encompass immediate requests but also additional gifts, suggestions for the next visits, samples are chosen carefully, as well as beautiful gift wrappings made. This requires stable staff with a low rotation. Specifically, customers expect experts in all brands not only a single one as they demand a multi-brand consultancy. They want someone to answer for example the question: can you tell me how is the rose from this brand in comparison to this other one? The perfume experts have to be excellent at asking the right questions and then at listening accurately to the answers – to the messages hidden sometimes behind words. A high level of service also means knowing how to manage a dissatisfied, disgruntled customer. This will drive customer loyalty.

Engaging the client into a never-ending discussion: the store perfume advisors will invite the client into a never-ending conversation. A discussion about evaluation, opinion, desires, preferences, ideas, inspirations, emotions... over time, different perfumes will be suggested depending on the customer specific requests. The higher the client knowledge, the sleeker the product selection suggested by the perfume advisors will be. The choice will be perfected time and time again. This in turn will drive customer retention up. Retention is a key success factor of any profitability model and is even more vital in this specific one. Increasing customer lifetime value is absolute key. The right technological tools have to be at the disposal of perfume advisors. In good hands, they will make wonders.

Space and digital must work together as one: we already talked about showrooming, refilling, the combinations of the two will continue to increase. Let alone the collect solutions of the purchase. New technologies will come out with faster speed and scale and it will be critical to keep up to pace. Ultimately, the online shopping experience aim is to be as close as possible to the one in-store. The digital and the brick and mortar have to nicely complement each other and be totally intertwined. The consultancy can happen online with ‘virtual advisors’ without having the client in store, samples can be sent home etc…This is a hot topic given the current economic times. Technology – CRM models, AI - provides innovation but to crack the equation one needs to keep in mind the quality of the customer experience provided by perfume consultants. One needs to constantly understand the customer ‘touchpoints’ and implement accordingly the right approach. Human quality remains essential in the end.

Right then, with this recommendations list in mind, can we say if they are any differences between Continental Europe and the US / UK specialty stores in terms of how they address the artistic perfumery?

All of the above best practices apply to every single market no matter how diverse it may be from the other, but there are indeed some key noticeable differences between Continental Europe and the US/UK to bring to your attention:

Market Turnover Size: one key fact is that the US is one of the largest market for perfume sales. The UK is also one of the key markets in Europe.
Larger Retail Spaces: specialty stores tend to have a much bigger number of square meters and as a consequence more space dedicated to perfumes within their stores.
Trend Setters: new brands, new trends – green for example, new concepts, new formats – example the 8ml- new customization services such as in-store blended products… they do come from those larger markets who seem to be ahead of the game in this instance.
Decoration Wow Impact: creativity shows in windows decorations but also inside the shop in mesmerizing displays and presentations, in specific themes created throughout the year. This surely requires a significant budget and last but not least creative talent.
Sustainability Engagement: zero plastic in product packaging, in shopping bags, specialty stores in those markets lead the way. Most shops have an official statement, visible to all, for their carbon emission impact. I have not seen this yet in Continental Europe.
Digital Revolution: the habit to click on-line as the core shopping method has been there for quite some time and eats up a huge proportion of overall sales. The customer is all empowered. He/she decides how, when, what, with whom to shop.

All this sounds very positive, and it is, however some other points, less ‘shiny’ ones have to be outlined:

Customer Experience focused on ROI: given the labor markets at play, staff turnover is usually higher than in Continental Europe, this might endanger the competence skill described here above. Above all, immediate sales results are paramount, leaving staff at times struggling between themselves to achieve key performance indicators or possibly speeding up the customer experience for immediate results.
Commercial Rebates Intensity: sales are great for end-customers for their pocket money, but they do diminish the value of goods that have been positioned as ‘special’ and naturally cut margins for specialty stores. This can even postpone customers’ purchases as one simply has to wait for the next rebate campaign that lies around the corner.

I have to end with one fundamental common ground: customers’ expectations are identical all around the globe. The world has become very even. We have become very much alike. We search the same engines, read the same information and experience similar emotions. Ultimately, when we decide to VENTURE into ARTISTIC PERFUMES, we wish to EXPERIENCE a SENSORIAL moment: we open our eyes, our ears, we engage our nose, we LISTEN to our EMOTIONS at our own PACE in search for BEAUTY.

Definitely, Artistic Perfumery can Blossom inside Specialty Stores across multiple countries. We could even think of a code of practice or a certificate to be released by an official body guaranteeing a quality approach and level of customer service. Perfumes are part of our culture and bring positive emotions to our daily lives. Something serious to cherish.