At first glance, it might appear crazy to sell fragrances like cologne and perfume online.
But then again, five years ago it seemed crazy to sell glasses online, notes Eric Korman. Formerly a president at Ralph Lauren and Ticketmaster, Korman has founded a new startup called Phlur (a tongue-in-check reference to the French word for flower, coupled with a nod to pH chemistry), that aims to completely recreate how people buy fragrance.
According to Korman, the idea for Phlur came from his personally frustrating experiences of buying fragrance in department stores.
“The sales associate is talking to me in this insider language, with [words like] ‘notes’ and ‘It has a cold floral heart.’ I don’t know what that means,” Korman told Business Insider, adding that a typical consumer wouldn’t either.
Instead of having you go to a department store and letting sales associates spray testers at you, talking about “notes,” confusing your senses, and having you walk away unhappy, Phlur offers a new ecommerce-based solution.
Korman says selling fragrance online is “counterintuitive for obvious reasons,” but there is a way around it: letting the pictures and words on their sleek website do the talking, as a replacement for smelling.
“We need the ideas to come to life,” Korman said. “If you’ve been to fragrance websites, all it is is a picture of a bottle. That’s not how you sell fragrance online.”
Phlur’s site describes its six unisex scents in detail, using rich imagery to build a world to go along with the scent: desert scenes for a spicy scent called “Moab,” and the early spring leaves of Central Park for a crisp, slightly masculine scent. It also gives you important specs, like how long it lasts, how to apply that particular scent, how heavy it is, and what your scent trail (or sillage) will be when worn.
What you won’t see: confusing signifiers like “eau de parfum” or “eau de toilette,” any talk about “notes,” or celebrity endorsements of any kind.
Based on this information, you can choose two different two-milliliter samples for $10. These will then be mailed to you, and will last about a week each. Korman says $10 just about covers the cost of the samples, and no money is made at this stage.
This is important, because, much like with dating, you need to spend some time with a fragrance before committing. Fragrance will not only smell differently on your skin versus a piece of paper, but the scent will also change and evolve after being worn for a while.
This is another advantage Phlur has over a typical department store experience, Korman said. He noted that they “took inspiration” from established ecommerce brands, like try-at-home eyewear company Warby Parker, to rethink the fragrance category — something that, according to Korman, hasn’t really been done before now.
Customers can then choose which of the samples they like better, and order a full-size 50-milliliter bottle for $85, minus the $10 for the samples, which brings the total to $75. Once you do that, Phlur will let you “gift” the trial experience to five friends for free.
Korman said that while much of the fragrance currently on the market is overpriced, the price of Phlur’s proprietary scents is more in line with the cost of high-quality ingredients. Phlur worked with major fragrance houses to develop the scents — the same ones that make fragrances for the big guys. One difference: Phlur gave the creatives 6-8 months to develop it instead of 6-8 weeks, and employed consultants to evaluate the fragrances to make sure they were up to sniff.
Also like Warby Parker, Phlur has a giveback program. $5 from every sale goes to either the Central Park Conservancy (for the “Olmstead & Vaux” scent) or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (the other five scents).
Fragrance is a $6-8 billion dollar industry, according to Korman, and it hasn’t grown in a decade. Part of the reason for that, he says, is that brands are not connecting to customers, and instead relying on sexualized marketing.
“I think if you’re … a modern consumer, that message doesn’t resonate,” Korman said. “They don’t want to be objectified, they want to be spoken to and connected with, and they want to be shown how fragrance can actually play a part of your entire existence and not just one part of it.”
Korman says that fragrance has been ingrained in human culture since ancient Egypt, and that “things that are woven that deeply into society don’t just go away generationally.” Internal research Phlur has done backs up this belief, with eight out of 10 people agreeing that Phlur was solving a problem they could identify with.
Phlur currently has 10 full-time employees and is based in Austin, Texas. The $2.7 million in venture capital it has raised so far has come primarily from Next Coast Ventures, which is also Austin-based.
Looking ahead, Korman says Phlur might expand into other categories of scented things, and the startup is currently developing more scents to debut sometime in the coming months.
“One thing for us is that we’ve really tried to rethink fragrance from beginning to end, the entire experience,” Korman said. “That’s what we’re excited to share with the world.”