Common Scents

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It's purely a non-scientific observation, but doesn't it seem like everything smells these days. It wasn't that long ago that Windex smelled like Windex. Now it comes in five flavors. From the expansive growth of the air-freshening-product category, to the bewildering variety of fragrance-flavors now available in previously self-scented products, to the entirely new category of premium cleaning products, who nose, er, knows where it will end?

While some of this phenomenon is undoubtedly the result of marketing folks gone wild, the importance of fragrance should not be overlooked. Humans have a relatively weak sense of smell compared to most other creatures, but olfaction is closely tied to memory and emotion, and is therefore a powerful element of experience. Because selling — and enjoying — hot tubs is all about the experience, fragrance may be more important than you think. With an understanding of fragrance and the increasingly powerful trend of environmental fragrance, it's clear that smelling and selling can go hand-inhand.

Just as it is important to educate consumers on the specific therapeutic and well-being benefits of a hot tub — the message is that a hot tub is an important standard appliance for the home, not a luxury or an extra — so is it critical for consumers to understand fragrance's specific health and wellness benefits. Whether for therapeutic use as in true aromatherapy, or more informally for enjoyment and relaxation, spa scents will appear on shopping lists as frequently as shampoo and aspirin, once customers understand the benefit of fragrance. It's not just olfactory amusement; there's an historical tradition and a growing body of evidence that point to aroma's powerful effect on the human psyche.

Tracking The Scent

To get a handle on this trend, you can spend $15,000 to buy "Home Fragrances USA," the comprehensive market study from Kline & Company, which reports on the more than $2 billion market for a category that includes scented candles, aroma diffusers, potpourri and room sprays, among other odiferous products. Or you can just visit your local grocery store to get an idea of how big the fragrance trend is.

Remember when the air-freshener category used to comprise aerosol sprays and those little plastic pucks you could stick to a wall behind the toilet? Back then, fragrance choices were usually limited to lemon, pine and maybe something floral. Today, air-freshening scent is delivered with ever-more complicated gadgetry, and with an increasing emphasis on the experience of fragrance. "Baking With Grandma" is one of five 3-in-1 Blending Candles from SC Johnson. Cinnamon or even Apple Pie apparently are not sufficiently evocative names.

Proctor and Gamble's ScentStories is perhaps the most out-there new fragrance product: It "plays" a cycle of five fragrances like a CD player plays music. The fragrance disks have names such as "strolling through the garden," and "wandering barefoot on the shore." SC Johnson, the leading manufacturer of home fragrance products, according to Kline & Company, has a dizzying lineup of smells. Its Glade brand includes 11 scents of PlugIns air fresheners along with 11 kinds of PlugIns Scented Oil. These contraptions plug into an outlet and emit odor as they warm. Press 'n Fresh is a wall-mounted, manually operated fragrance squirter in three flavors. Wisps, a battery operated squirter, saves you the trouble of dispensing the scent. In addition, 22 scents for candles, eight for the carpet and 19 aerosol-spray scents keep consumers' noses occupied.

But those are just products whose primary purpose is to scent the air. SC Johnson also makes Fantastik AllPurpose Cleaner in three scents, Grabit wipes in three fragrances and Pledge — you can't call it Lemon Pledge anymore — in four flavors. The mosquitoes probably can't tell, but Off! now comes in three fragrances.

The point is that fragrance is a ballooning trend and there's no reason the hot tub market shouldn't take advantage of it. Luckily, some manufacturers have noticed that the fragrance experience shares common themes with the hot tub experience — well-being, therapy, escape and relaxation are some — and have produced lines of fragrance specifically for hot tubs. Most retailers carry some type of spa-scent product, but do they really know what a powerful tool they have at their disposal. Just as average consumers can be overwhelmed by their choices of furniture-polish fragrances, retailers can be confused by the potpourri of scentrelated products and practices. But a clear understanding of the basics of fragrance, in addition to the specifics of the particular product on the shelf, is a valuable tool for communicating benefits to customers.

-therapy Vs. -chology

The term aromatherapy is often used to broadly denote the use of fragrance, but aromatherapy is actually a well-defined practice using only natural products.

"We make a distinction between the terms 'aroma' or 'scent' and 'fragrance'," says Kelly Holland Azzaro, vice president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and a registered aromatherapist with 18 years experience. "Even though fragrance means aroma, too, it confuses people, because fragrance can be synthetic, and that's not true aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils."

"There's a whole ritual involved with aromatherapy, including massage," says Thersa Molnar, executive director of the Sense of Smell Institute, an organization devoted to research in the area of olfaction. "In some cases they believe in ingesting the compounds. They look at it as a real therapy."

While aromatherapists are generally not subject to the same type of regulation or certification as, for example, hair stylists or athletic trainers, there are reputable schools and certifying bodies that teach safe effective aromatherapy.

Aroma-chology, on the other hand, is what most hot tub retailers will be selling. Aroma-chology, as described by the SOSI, which coined the term in the early '80s, seeks to establish the positive effects of aromas on human behavior that are verifiable through reproducible scientific experiments. It deals only with the psychological effects achieved through the use of ambient odors that stimulate the olfactory pathways to the brain.

"What the majority of the industry really means when they come out with what they call aromatherapy products, is aroma-chology. It deals with not only pure essential oils, many of them work with mixed synthetic fragrances, and it's not usually just one fragrance, it's usually blended fragrance," says Molnar.

"We are dealing with a temporary psychological effect. So we say that, if you're having a down day, maybe fragrance could elevate your mood. If you're obviously clinically depressed and have major problems, I don't care what fragrance you sniff, it's not going to help you."

A newcomer to the hot tub fragrance category, Adrienne Miltenberger of Fragrant Customs, has designed a line of fragrance that works with the temporary psychological effect and one's imagination. "Our line specifically is to give you the escape of going to distant places, without having to leave your home," says Miltenberger. "Our research was based on the specific regions that we were blending for, and we combined the scents and things that were indigenous to those regions, so it would envelop you in the sense that you were actually there. 'Where are we going to go tonight.' is the idea."

How Does It Work?

The science of olfaction is incredibly complex — the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two researchers who described how olfaction works on a cellular level. But a few facts together with your own experience will provide a simpler explanation.

"The sense of smell is handled by the limbic system, which is the same part of our brains that handles memory and emotion," says Molnar. "So together it makes for a very emotional type of memory. When people smell certain scents, it brings back not only an instant memory of what the smell is, but also of the emotions they felt at the time."

According to the Aromasys Web site, "Smell doesn't just in.uence our moods. It has a direct influence on our feelings. The olfactory nerve is the only sense organ that connects our external world directly to the limbic area of the brain, which is associated with emotional memory." Aromasys, with headquarters in Minneapolis and offices around the world, has made a booming business of environmental fragrance, providing fragrance-delivery systems and fragrance blends to hotels, resorts and businesses including Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Marriott hotel properties, Coach leather shops and many others.

The Strength Of Smell

Research sponsored by SOSI shows that memories associated with odors are stronger than those connected to any of the other four senses, so keep that in mind as you talk with customers about enjoying their hot tubs. Scent is more important than you may have thought, and familiarizing yourself with the basic concepts of olfaction will help you select and merchandise fragrance products more profitably.

You also might consider the fragrance environment of your retail store. Is the air telling your brand story and making a lasting, positive impression on customers. Is it contributing to a productive work environment. Only the nose knows.

What's That Smell?

While many organizations and corporations are hard at work in search of scientific truths about the sense of smell, there is an art to olfaction as well.

Following is information on the qualities of several different scents, one from an aromatherapy perspective, the other from an aroma-chology perspective. While these lists will provide a starting point, consumers should let their noses be their guides.

Caution: Do not ingest essential oils or fragrances, and alway test for sensitivity before applying to the skin. For therapeutic uses, consult a qualified professional.

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