ScentAir is Enjoying the Sweet Smell of International Success

Thu Sep 15, 2016

ScentAir is building a fast-growing overseas business reaching to Hong Kong and beyond

Original Charlotte Business Journal Article

Excellence in International Trade: ScentAir

ScentAir is enjoying the sweet smell of international success.

Hoteliers, retailers, apartment building developers and entertainment venue operators have long paid attention to how their stores, lobbies and performance halls looked to visitors. Now they’ve added smell to the offerings. Most turn to Charlotte-based ScentAir, a pioneer in the delivery of scent impressions.

pioneer of smell impressions                          

“Our sense of smell is the most powerful sense in terms of emotion and memory,” says Ed Burke, vice president of customer strategy and communications. “But retailers have only been thinking about smell in the last 10 years.”

ScentAir began in Orlando, Fla., in 1997, focused on scent marketing in amusement and theme parks. In 2004, the company was moved to Charlotte by its new private equity firm owners, who believed the city could propel the fledgling company beyond its five employees. Twelve years later, ScentAir has 400 employees — about half in Charlotte, and the rest in offices around the globe including London, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and in parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Customers in 109 countries rely on ScentAir to help them develop and deliver a subtle scent to their public spaces as a way to make a positive, subliminal impression on visitors.

ScentAir is now the largest and most experienced commercial scent provider, as measured by revenue, customers and employees. The company recently responded to questions about its growing international business:

Tell me about ScentAir’s international sales growth.

Five years ago, our international business was probably less than 10% of our business, and it’s now closer to 20% of our business. But over that time, our domestic business has grown substantially too. That growth has necessitated true infrastructure in Europe, where we not only have folks in Europe and physical space for warehousing, but we are also doing some creative in France.

How do you pick new markets?

Hospitality and multifamily-living clients are our dominant client profile. The hotel industry is now at point that if the hotel brand doesn’t have signature scent they are an outlier. We also do a lot of work in casinos and in retail and specialty retail. We go where our clients take us, and once we get to a critical mass, we build our operations and infrastructure there. That helped us start our Hong Kong office, which began significant growth in Asia. We now have a couple of customers in Myanmar, when two to three years ago no one was doing business in Myanmar.

What work is done in Charlotte?

We do the creative here and have a lot of technical expertise with fragrance here. We have relationships with fragrance houses so they compound the materials and send it to us in large containers. We manufacture the delivery systems and assemble those in Charlotte. We make a series of free-standing delivery systems installed with a dry-evaporative system and fan that will drive out the scent. We can also deliver scent through an air-conditioning system for a very large space.

So you are a manufacturer?

We are absolutely a manufacturer. We are fully integrated. We design and manufacture the delivery systems. More of what we are delivering overseas is being manufactured in the U.S. We have such a solid operation in Charlotte that as we grow internationally, it really does translate to efficiency and economy of scale in the U.S. and better financial performance and jobs in Charlotte.

How are scent preferences different around the world?

Customers in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America will typically have preferences for the strongest scents. Classic spices and wood notes resonate more in the Middle East, but in Latin America they like more of a floral fragrance. Asia and northern Europe like the least intensive or as we call it, the most sheer fragrances.

What concerns you about the global economy right now?

Our concerns are probably not as great as some other companies that are so reliant on the cost of raw materials. While I shouldn’t say we’re not concerned, the market is so underserved that we can still predict pretty substantial growth.

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