September 5, 2009 9:56 PM   Subscribe

I want to sell a cologne. How do I do that?

I have a brilliant idea for a new fragrance. Now what? Can I patent a fragrance before it goes into production?
posted by defmute to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have a brilliant idea for a new fragrance. Now what? Can I patent a fragrance before it goes into production?

Before you do ANYTHING, create a business plan.

You say your fragrance is "brilliant". Prove it, and prove it in business terms.

What is the size of your target market, and how many units do you plan to sell into that market? How did you arrive at this figure? How will that market change over time, and in response to what factors? Will demand for your product grow and grow, or will it saturate that market in the near term?

Have you investigated creating and bottling your fragrance? There are companies that will do it all for you - in other words, boxes of your fragrance will arrive at your door - but they cost more than doing each step yourself. What's the difference in terms of your business plan? Would your enterprise only be profitable if you were able to do each step yourself, or is there enough profit to allow you to purchase these services?

How will you distribute your product? Internet / web site, approach stores yourself or via a distributor? No right or wrong answer here, just changes to your revenue stream. For example, on a per unit basis you'd probably gross the most running your own web site, but volume might be very low. Selling into retail yourself would earn you more (stores will buy more product per single purchase than a web site), but costs you time. A distributor would move the most product but, again, cost more money. So tradeoffs here, and sometimes you can't engage all three (i.e., a distributor may demand an exclusive).

Branding. Very, very important - how are you going to brand your product, separate it from countless other fragrances out there? While I'm sure yours is indeed brilliant, why should I purchase it? Branding may very well end up your single largest cost, far in excess of the product itself.

So I suggest that you do not incur any cost, AT ALL, until you've created a business plan.

When I took my MBA it wasn't uncommon for students to be presenting their own ideas when completing assigned work. This was something my particular University was known for, entrepreneurialism, and they actually encouraged folks to do this throughout the programme.

So perhaps find a similar University and take a few courses in marketing, business planning, anything else that might appear helpful. These courses will help you create and refine your business plan.

Best of luck with your idea!
posted by Mutant at 3:13 AM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

There really isn't one way to do this.

You can get an MBA, write a business plan, package and brand the shit out of it, work your ass off to get in with department store buyers and hope to make a mint, or you can buy off the shelf bottles, have labels designed and made, and sell from your own internet storefront and/or on Etsy.

Or are you actually asking how one physically crafts a perfume? It isn't complicated, but the combination of base notes, middle notes and top notes does make it more complicated than "I want to make perfume that smells like baby powder."
posted by DarlingBri at 7:00 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can't patent a scent. Ask Kramer about it.

Not so sure about that. Mrs Jones, who knows about such things, tells me that perfume houses have sued successfully over this kind of thing. Granted, this was France, but still.

Which raises another point- depending on the formula, you might not be able to sell it in the EU. They have recently instituted some very strict laws on what you can and cannot put into scent (would you believe citrus oil? Oak moss?).

I'm walking out the door just now, but email me if you want more particulars.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2009

To me, saying you have an "idea" for a "new" fragrance is like saying you have an idea for a new color. Fearsomely complex as they may be, our olafactory capacities are determined by nature, as are the potential molecules that might one day combine to smell like anything in particular. You can't patent the flavor or ingredients of a wine, though you can patent the process used to arrive at that flavor, and trademark the name of the wine, and copyright the label design.

Always strikes me that fragrance marketing consists primarily of the development of a brand concept, and only subsequently the creation of a scent.

Could you clarify whether you're talking about "an idea" for an actual smell or for a marketing concept?
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:03 AM on September 6, 2009

Ah, but you can patent molecules that have distinctive scents. (NY Times).

posted by fourcheesemac at 8:06 AM on September 6, 2009

You might want to do a bit of research first to be absolutely sure that your fragrance doesn't already exist. For instance, there are fragrances in production that smell like burning leaves, garage, cannabis, and mildew. Even if it does, you'd probably still be able to go through with your idea - it just might not be as original as you think.

I have to echo that you'll need to clarify whether your idea is just for the smell or for a marketing concept. There are quite a few small businesses who sell their perfumes exclusively online; they don't have glossy magazine ads, but many of them do have cult followings.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:07 AM on September 6, 2009

You say you have a "brilliant idea" for a new fragrance — have you actually mixed some up to see how it works? That would seem to be the first step. A blend that sounds fine on paper may not work at all in the bottle or on the skin. There's also no way of knowing how the scent will develop as it matures in the bottle without actually trying it.
posted by Lexica at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2009

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