What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

THIRD ANNIVERSARY AND CHANGES COMING ROUND: PART 1 - SAMPLES


It’s hard to believe that this blog celebrated its third anniversary this month. Somehow those milestones are starting to just slip by without my noticing. The blog is starting on its fourth year now, and I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that it’s OK if I don’t post something every day, as long as I do it fairly regularly, when I have something to say, the time to say it, and the mental discipline to sit down and actually do it. At this point there’s a certain amount of mild momentum going on, it’s all working reasonably well, and I plan to just keep on doing what I’m doing blog-wise over the coming year.

Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes will be three years old in July, and that’s where the changes will happen. It seems like I just started with the perfume-making process and am still in the infant stages of learning about production, packaging, marketing and everything having to do with the business end of things. I keep experimenting, finding that what works at one stage becomes maladaptive at the next stage, and I need to rethink processes, products, and presentations. Here are a few of the changes that I’ve made, or plan on making.

Samples
Formulating fragrances is the easy part of the process. As a perfumer who does everything myself, the hardest task is making samples. It’s tedious work labeling and filling all those tiny vials, but it has to be done. I keep changing the way I label and package the smallest, 1-ml samples, trying to find the best way to present them. I finally broke down and bought a label maker that spits out the stick-on labels that go on the vials. That’s great, but what I found was that when the vials were packaged next to each other in my storage bins or in a plastic bag, the tiny bit of exposed adhesive on the edge of one label would sometimes stick to the adhesive on the label of its neighbor, causing the labels to try to pull each other off the vials. No one complained about this, but I’m sure it must have happened to customers, not just to me.

The solution I’ve come up with, at least for the immediate future, is to put each sample in a tiny labeled baggie of its own, so the sample is double-labeled, once on the vial and once on its baggie. One of my pet gripes is with unlabeled sample vials that are on a card or other container, so that once taken out of their wrapping there’s no way of knowing what they are. Another gripe is with samples that are labeled with the name of the fragrance, but not the brand, or the brand but not the fragrance. I put both on each vial and each baggie.

With 28 different fragrances in production (how did that happen?) it’s no longer practical to send out sample packs of everything. For the 1 ml vials, customers can now order individual single samples, 5-sample packs, or 10-sample packs. I’m still selling the 16-sample deluxe variety pack of 2-ml screw-top bottles (photo on left), but will probably discontinue it once I use up my current supply of little bottles.

Because many people prefer larger spray samples I’ve added several boxed discovery sets containing 5 or 6 samples in 3-ml glass spray bottles, each with its own theme (Just Orchids, Scents of Place, etc), and these have been very popular. I just put together a special Father’s Day discovery set containing the 6 most popular fragrances with a “masculine” tendency.

One thing that struck me at the Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon earlier this month was the number of people who wanted to mix and match samples from several of the pre-made discovery packs. To accommodate this desire, I’m going to add a “build your own” discovery pack of 6 spray samples.

As the queen of sample hoarders (I have a library of over two thousand!), I’m very much aware of the need to have a good sampling program. I try to keep costs down, more or less covering materials and my own less than minimum wage work producing them, thinking of them as sort of a hybrid between advertising and a commodity for people to purchase and enjoy.  Shipping of samples is free within the US, and a nominal amount internationally, and will stay that way unless postage rates go up dramatically. All orders for full bottles include a pack of free samples.

I thought I would cover everything in this post, but just talking about samples is filling up what seems like all the available space in a single post. If any of you have suggestions, please leave a comment. What kind of samples do you like? How do you like them packaged? What else can you tell me that would improve my sampling program? The spray sample discovery sets were in response to a customer’s comments, so this sort of feedback is important.

If you leave a substantive comment, you will be entered in a random drawing for a Perfumer’s Perfumes Discovery Set. 

[Both third birthday cake images from Wikimedia]

11 comments:

  1. The set of samples I won in the recent giveaway arrived and their packaging really stood out. The labels are very attractive, especially the ones on the little bags. I like this double-label idea. I have a small percentage of the number of samples you have but I still save every one, even scrubbers, because my tastes change. (Well, once I like a scent, I usually continue to like it, but things I thought I hated sometimes turn out to be deep loves.)
    Though the rest of my personal items are well organized, I just throw all my small dabber samples into little boxes separated vaguely chronologically. Good labeling is very helpful. I think you're onto something.

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    1. It's interesting how tastes change over time. That's a really good reason to keep samples and revisit them periodically.

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  2. My biggest sample problem is one that you mentioned- when the vial has no label, and I take it out and don't put it back immediately, then it's often hard to know what it was, especially if I haven't gotten to try it several times yet! Montale does this and it drives me mad. Your sample set, from about a year ago, was terrific, and everything stayed organized. The changes you've designed sound good, too! It would be very easy to keep them organized, and the baggie solves any sort of leakage/spillage issues that could happen during transit.

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    1. Marla, I was thinking of Montale when I wrote about unlabeled samples! I almost wrote, "here's looking at you, Montale", but deleted it, because Montale isn't the only one who fails to properly label samples. I don't think my vials leak, at least I hope they don't, but there's always the possibility of cross-contamination from residue around the cap when vials are touching each other.

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  3. I always label anything poorly labelled myself, though samples don't stick around very long in my sample box. I try it once or twice before they are regifted to friends. I usually decide if I want a bottle or not from that.

    I do prefer spray samples, though it's not really practical.

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    1. A lot of people prefer spray samples, which is why I provide them in the discovery sets. Gifting or regifting is a great way to share samples, so it's good to hear that you're doing it.

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  4. Congratulations on your third anniversary, Ellen! I think your new sample system is the best I've seen. I hate samples on cards, labeled or not. These tiny little labeled bags are much easier to store, although, as you know, your samples don't last long at my house!

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    1. Those tiny labeled bags may not be the best solution ever, but they're working well for now. I always take carded samples off the cards to file them, which is why it's so annoying not to have full information on the vial itself. I know it's cheaper to use unlabeled vials, but that doesn't help the customer. I tried making some carded samples (you may have had some of them) but didn't like them so have stopped using them.

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  5. I don't have thousands of samples. Yet. I do think samples are important (though also somewhat annoying) for someone new to the experience of interpreting life through scent - yes I am describing newbie me. I think perfume collecting - and sampling being a doorway to collecting - is a whole new way for me to understand myself and what is happening around me. How could I have missed it for so long? Now I have this new language with which to talk about the seasons and about the passage of time and about childhood and of course about memories. The annoying part of this hobby can be resolved by good organization. Your huge sample collection must be organized. Certainly your sample packs seem to speak to that. I need to get there. Thanks for the chance at this draw.

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    1. Mridula, Samples may be annoying, but they're essential if you plan to make sure that you only buy perfume that you truly enjoy. Yes, my thousands of samples are highly organized. I log each one into a database when I receive it, having learned early on that it's easy to order the same sample twice if you forget that you have it. I file them by brand, in baggies, in boxes. They take up an entire closet shelf, but if I want to find something, it's right there at my fingertips.

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    2. I have a growing sense of the need to prganize. I especially need to organize my responses after I sniff. The samples finish and my memory of how I experienced them fade so fast or get muddled with my response to similar perfumes that are yet different. I think I will start a notebook

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