The Nose Knows
Boston Proper uses a signature scent to create a warm and inviting store environment
Online retailers transitioning from clicks to bricks are grabbing headlines. Warby Parker revolutionized eyewear by selling direct to consumers online; the company now operates permanent stores in New York City, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and there’s talk that it could be eyeing more sites. Or consider beauty category breakthrough Birchbox.com, which opened a permanent store in New York earlier this year to much fanfare. Walls surrounding the cash wrap are decorated with customer Instagrams — a shout out to its digital roots — but the store’s hair, makeup and nail services are a clear nod to the physical realm.
Add to the list Boca Raton, Fla.-based Boston Proper. After 25 years as a cataloger, last year the company opened the doors to its first bricks-and-mortar stores.
A little history: The company grew to be an e-commerce force, generating $111 million in online sales in 2011 and claiming a spot on Internet Retailer’s Top 500. (Boston Proper continues to circulate more than 50 million catalogs annually in the United States.) That same year the company was purchased by Chico’s FAS, the parent company of Chico’s, White House | Black Market and Soma, for $205 million.
Armed with an online and offline strategy, Boston Proper is positioned for smooth sales of its private label product assortment that includes knits, denim, dresses, athleisure, swim and outerwear along with accessories and shoes for its target 35- to 55-year-old female customer (the target customer is less defined by age and more by attitude, the company says). There are 13 Boston Proper stores; another 10 or so are in the cards for the remainder of 2014.
A sensory experience
To bring the brand to terrestrial life, Boston Proper tapped Kramer Design Group to handle prototype duties. Kramer has a track record with large and small retailers from Club Monaco and Cache to Journelle — all strong female consumer brands.
The new concept was designed to take advantage of an omnichannel world. Two- and three-dimensional branding efforts include new packaging, a feminine color palette and a new starburst logo that will stand out online, in print and in store. Stores feature merchandise arrayed by outfit and lifestyle; in-store stylists/salespersons equipped with iPads can research previous purchases, enabling them to suggest additional items based on customers’ purchase history.
And there’s something more that adds to the vibe. In-house visual merchandising and marketing teams paid particular attention to the stores’ soundtrack, taking care to steer away from standard pop radio fare. Instead, they focus on classic hits remade with modern tech grooves, and select lesser-known contemporary artists.
For the store aesthetic, Kramer’s prototype takes its cue from a women’s closet — intimate and feminine — and can flex from as little as 1,800 square feet to 3,800 square feet.
Each room in the python print-covered dressing area has its own closet that invites trying on clothing in the privacy of a luxury lounge. “The ambiance we created was one that resonated with luxury boutique shopping mixed with luxury residential-like finishes,” explains Josue Diaz, Boston Proper’s director of visual merchandising. It’s a glossy jewel box of a space with an indulgent dose of warm metallic finishes, animal prints and comfortable upholstered seating, plus beaded screens for intrigue.
“We’ve created a place where our customer can experience the texture and color of our merchandise,” Diaz says, “but we’ve also designed a place where she can experience the textures and colors of the store which we have designed to stimulate more of her senses.”
With sight, sound and touch covered, Boston Proper wanted one more thing to complete the brand and in-store experience. “We know that scent is one of the most powerful of the human senses and we wanted to capitalize on that,” Diaz says. “We wanted [customers] to feel inspired in our luxury environment.”
Boston Proper turned to Tru Fragrance to develop a signature fragrance to perfume the air of its stores. “They understood the essence of our brand and were able to capture our brand vision in a custom scent we called ‘Rose Gold,’” Diaz says.
Described as “warm, rich and inviting,” Rose Gold is a modern blend of citrus and cinnamon with nutmeg, rose and jasmine and a base of vetiver, woods, musk and incense — matching the spirit and aspirations of Boston Proper’s target customer and designed to be as memorable as the items customers can find in stores.
Once the fragrance was developed, the hunt was on to find the best method for releasing the scent in stores. Tru Fragrance recommended AirQ, a provider of ambient scenting services that works with companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Bliss Spas, Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos, theme parks and offices where scent plays a role in the customer amenity package.
“We trusted Tru Fragrance’s recommendation,” Diaz says, “and we knew they had worked too hard on developing Rose Gold not to use the best vehicle to distribute the scent.”
AirQ’s micro-droplet technology “uniformly treats the air of large or small spaces using ultra-low concentrations of liquid scent that outputs like a dry vapor,” explains AirQ Executive Vice President Roger Bensinger.
That compares favorably to other technologies in the marketplace, notably because users are able to control the amount of ambient scent, eliminating any concerns for customers with fragrance sensitivities. Micro-droplets are also hypoallergenic and will not leave a residue the way larger particles could. Using less fragrance concentrate is also more economical.
AirQ’s Premium Scenting units offer an on-board computer that can be used to control both the intensity and the duration of custom scent effects, up to and including programmable start and stop times. AirQ delivery systems meet and exceed all consumer product safety standards and use no propellants or any other volatile organic compounds.
Scenting technology has come a long way from the early days of blasting a space with scent and allowing it to dissipate, Bensinger says. Today, it’s possible to zone stores, which allows retailers to do a “warm welcome” — scenting only at the entrance, which is a popular option. Other companies choose to scent specific departments; Boston Proper opted to evenly scent the entire space.
Boston Proper conducted initial testing in its corporate offices. Using AirQ’s wall-mounted units in different offices, they were able to experience first-hand what its customers would experience. For the first two weeks, they tested the appropriate amount of scent distribution — also called a “scent map” — to determine the perfect volume per square foot.
“Our delivery systems are able to control the intensity of scent, which is essential because you need more scent when there’s higher traffic flow … due to air being replaced when entrance doors open and close,” Bensinger says.
Sweet smell of success
“There haven’t been any changes made to the scenting plan since we’ve opened boutiques,” says Diaz. “We approved [the plan], where the level is recorded and maintained.”
“Our partnership with AirQ has been great,” he says. “They are easy to work with, reliable and delivered what we asked for on time and on budget.” Additionally, he notes, “They understand customer service.”
Customer response has been positive, Diaz says. “We wanted a scent that would resonate with our customer, yet could take her to another place while wowing her,” he says.
In fact, the warm and inviting scented air is definitely a key sales driver. Not only do customers stay in the store longer, they’ve responded by purchasing the signature room sprays and candles.
“The scent is an integral part of the detailed touches that provide a luxurious shopping experience like nowhere else,” Diaz says.