Ambient Scenting and Commercial Real Estate

Retailers, shopping centers, hotels and even hospitals are using scent to enhance the user experience and improve their bottom line.

SCENT CAN BE part of the toolkit that helps to build a brand and enhance how a customer or guest experiences a place. The right scent can instill calmness, evoke pleasant memories or increase worker productivity. An appealing scent can help customers form an emotional bond with a place that they will remember long after they’ve forgotten the draperies or artwork.

Recognizing that scent can be a useful branding component, many shopping malls, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, theaters and casinos are using ambient scenting to elevate the user experience and improve the bottom line. Even airports and subway systems are finding that customer feedback improves with scenting.

Scenting can be used to erase negative odors, replacing them with a more desirable fragrance. Richard Weening, chairman and CEO of Milwaukee-based Prolitec, one of several companies that provide scenting services to real estate and other clients, likens it to noise-canceling headphones. That is, it cancels bad smells and replaces them with a pleasant scent. “A bad odor repels customers and conveys a long-lasting negative impression of the establishment and the brand,” says Weening.

Odor remediation can be particularly useful in grocery stores, restaurants, restrooms and places where lots of people gather or work, such as casinos and call centers.

How It Works

Typically, a very low concentration of a pleasant scent is dispersed into the air using a diffuser. The size and power of the diffuser are determined by the space being scented. The high-quality, hypoallergenic scent is carefully selected to heighten the company’s brand and to appeal to target market segments. In many cases, a custom scent is developed for the client. Very subtle, natural kinds of scents are usually most appropriate. They are often so subtle that customers may not even realize they smell something.

Most companies begin with a scent selection consultation, then design a subscription package with a monthly fee for scent replenishment. The cost can range from less than $100 a month to as much as $20,000 a month for a large space like an airport.

Farah Abassi, founder of Boca Raton-based Aroma360, describes her firm’s scent consultation, which involves asking a lot of questions. “What makes your brand unique? Who are your customers? What kinds of feelings do you want to evoke?” She adds, “Scent should be consistent with the decor. For example, you wouldn’t want a tropical or ocean-breeze scent in a dark woodsy ski chalet.”

Ed Burke, vice president for consumer strategy at ScentAir, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, “Choosing the right scent is a collaborative process. Usually the customer has already thought about the look of the property and the music. We work with them to coordinate the scent to those themes. Our team also considers who the audience is. Demographics — age, gender and cultural characteristics — can determine the type of scent.”

Prolitec’s Weening says, “We develop a custom scent to appeal to the client’s target customers, or the client can choose a scent from our collection that reflects their brand and image. Our master perfumers understand which scents appeal to which demographics.” He adds that American customers tend to prefer citrus scents such as lime and grapefruit, whereas Europeans find bergamot appealing. Americans and Europeans even differ in the variety of cedar scent they prefer. In Europe, the farther north, the less intense the preferred scent. Japanese customers like a lighter scent than those in the U.S., whereas mainland Asians like a more intense scent. In the Middle East, people prefer somewhat spicy scents such as frankincense.

Abassi has found similar cultural preferences and adds, “We are drawn to the scents of our childhood. The smells we remember from the markers or play dough we had as children can evoke positive memories.”

ScentAir offers a palette of scent samples from its library of more than 2,000 scents or can produce a custom scent. The most common scents come from teas, citrus, floral, woods and other natural products. Aroma360 also offers seasonal scents. A summer collection is based on fresh ocean and beach-related scents. For the fall, pumpkin spice and warm, cinnamon-like scents are key.

All Kinds of Users

Prolitec works mostly with large global and domestic clients such as airports, shopping malls, hotel chains and national retailers; “anyone who is brand focused or for whom scent is an important part of the customer experience,” according to Weening. Abercrombie & Fitch is working with Prolitec to present a new fragrance in stores that reflects the retailer’s new branding. Prolitec has also worked with Soma Intimates, a national lingerie merchant.

Hotels are major users of scenting. ScentAir’s Burke notes, “Hotels find that an exceptional arrival is key to the guest experience. Having an appealing scent in the lobby is part of that experience.” Westin Hotels & Resorts worked with ScentAir to develop its signature White Tea fragrance, which is used not only for scenting the air but also is reinforced in its bath amenities. Today, Westin offers a broad collection of White Tea-scented bath products, room spray, potpourri and even a scent diffuser for guests to purchase for home use.

Marriott International began working with ScentAir about 10 years ago. The hotel chain first tried scenting in about 100 properties. It got such positive feedback through guest surveys that the chain expanded it to all Marriott properties.

Abassi says Aroma360 works with a variety of clients, including hotels, spas, offices, retailers and medical centers, where scent can help to soothe patients’ anxiety. She also has worked with auto dealerships. “Buying a car can be so stressful and the proper scent can make clients feel more relaxed,” says Abassi. ScentAir’s Burke adds, “The service department is important for the auto dealers’ bottom line, so the atmosphere there is important.”

Prolitec’s Weening says, “Everything smells like something. We try to make that something really beautiful.”

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