Friday, March 24, 2017

12 to 60: Fragrance oil, alcohol, and yes, water!

     This is a continuation of a series of articles on producing a fragrance -- for profit -- with production limited to 12 bottles ("60" is when you start to grow!) Prior blogs: 12 to 60: Building a profitable perfume business, a few bottles at a time and 12 to 60: Planning your 12 bottle perfume launch.

    Having covered bottles, pumps, and labels it's time to get to the heart of the matter, the fragrance itself -- the magical fluid that goes into the bottle and makes a sale possible. That magic liquid is composed of three components: fragrance oil (the "juice"), alcohol, and water. On a bottle you may see these ingredients listed as "fragrance, SD alcohol, DI water." Today I want to write about water, a topic easily overlooked and greatly misunderstood.

    The water can be left off. You can make your perfume without it. That would leave you with just the fragrance oil and alcohol. The issues with water are "why?, "what kind?", and "how much?" Let's start with the easy question: "how much?"

    The starting point for our exploration of water is the alcohol for your perfume because the water in your perfume comes with the alcohol. Our starting point is pure, 100% ethanol -- 200 proof alcohol.

    But 200 proof alcohol has no water in it. If we want water, we have to add it. How much? I typically "water down" my alcohol to 180 proof -- 90% ethanol and 10% water -- by volume. 190 proof is also common for perfumery, 95% alcohol, 5% water -- by volume.

    So my answer to the first question, "how much?" is ten percent or less by volume, the balance being pure ethanol. Products sold as "perfumers alcohol" are generally not pure, 100% ethanol so be aware of this.

    Since these measurements are by volume, it's easy to do your blending. Say you want a liter of 180 proof alcohol, 90% ethanol and 10% water. Start with a 1000 ml (l liter) measuring cup. Fill it to the 100 ml mark with water. Then top it up to the 1000 ml mark with 900 ml of alcohol. Then be sure to store it in a clean bottle with a stopper to prevent evaporation. And be sure to label it for what it for what you made: 180 proof alcohol: 90% alcohol, 10% water.

    As for the question, "what kind of water?" the answer is de-ionized water, which is not the same as distilled water. Both distilled water and de-ionized water are high in purity. Much of the purity is the result of pre-treatments through filtration before each is subjected to its final process.

    Distilled water is produced by distillation, the same process used to make moonshine. The water is boiled, steam rises, goes through a condenser -- the cooling tube or tower -- and becomes liquid water again leaving behind various minerals.

    Even if you don't have distilling equipment you can witness this process on your kitchen stove. Boil a small pot of water until steam is released, hold a place in the path of the steam (watch your fingers, the steam is hot!) and you'll see droplets of water form on the bottom of the plate and then fall back into the pot. If you let all the water boil off, you will see a residue left on the pot. This residue is some of what your distillation process has removed from your water.

    One small problem for perfumery with distilled water. If your water contains organic materials with the same boiling point as the water, they will join the steam and end up on in your newly distilled water. For the home perfumer this may not seem like a big deal, but why cut corners?

    De-ionized water is water from which all ions have been removed. This can be done in several ways but the result is water that, chemically, is a "blank slate." It won't react with your fragrance oil. It won't change the odor, it won't change the color. It is the preferred water for perfumery. It is not expensive. You can buy it in small quantities. I've listed some sources here.

    Now, to the question, "why use any water at all?" I've written about this elsewhere but it comes down to these three points. Water softens the alcohol so it is softer on the skin. Water clings to the top notes and gives them a persistence that they would not have otherwise. And, in a spray, water intensified the effect of the perfume.

    Now you have it. A better understanding of water. The next issue I'll tackle will be alcohol, what kind you want and where you can get it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

12 to 60: Planning your 12 bottle perfume launch

    In my last post I discussed the advantages of launching a perfume with very limited production -- two dozen bottles -- yet yielding a hypothetical 400% profit. But, to make this strategy work, you must be able to produce your fragrance at a low cost per bottle. Today I'll discuss what you encounter in doing this -- producing 12 bottles of perfume at a cost of about $5.50 per bottle.

    The components you'll need are the bottle, a cap or spray (referred to as the "closure"), the label, and the fragrance itself. You have to shop carefully and, before making any purchases, plan the assembly. It is essential that your components fit together properly. Of particular importance is that the spray or cap is the correct size (called the "finish") for your bottles. Unless you are investing in a capping machine, you'll want bottles with a threaded neck in a size where screw-on spray pumps or caps are available.

    When you look for these components in matching sizes -- and small quantities -- you'll find that your choices are limited. To keep your cost down you must work with matching bottles and closures that can be purchased in small quantities at a low cost. You'll find some reasonable suppliers of bottles here. You'll find some simple guides to the selection of bottles here. Study these two pages before you start spending money on bottles.

    Getting sticker labels for your bottles is far less challenging that it once was. A number of printers will produce beautiful labels for you in small quantities at an affordable price. The only issue you may be finding a printer who offers a stock label in a size that works for your bottle. Note here that it is important to have your bottle on hand, or at least picked out, before you order your labels. And before you can settle on a bottle you must be sure that you have a source for affordable, leak-proof closures for it.

    An alternative method of producing labels for your bottles is to print your own on sheets of sticker paper. This has been my personal choice for a number of years. I design my label using desktop publishing software (Quark XPress), then fill an 8-1/2" x 11" page with as many of these labels as I can fit in the printable area. Then I place crop marks just outside the live area, two for each row, two for each column. Then it's just a matter of printing the labels with a desktop printer and cutting them apart. For this I use a #11 X-Acto blade. This blade is also good for separating the label from its carrier sheet.

    There are a number of possibilities for paper. Aside from being self-adhesive, you must select a paper appropriate for the product you will be using. Inkjet papers work with inkjet printers; laser papers work with laser printers. A mismatch will give you bad results.

    I've been using a waterproof inkjet paper from Graytex for good results. The smallest quantity available (15 sheets) can last a long time as you'll be getting multiple labels from each sheet.

    This leaves us with the issues of boxes, fragrance, and assembly -- topics for my next messages.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

12 to 60: Building a profitable perfume business, a few bottles at a time

    The biggest mistake the perfume beginner can make is to produce too many bottles, far too many!. Look at it this way: the only bottles that make money are the ones you sell . The cost of each bottle you produce but don't sell subtracts profit.

    So if you produce 100 bottles of perfume at a cost of $5.50 per bottle and you sell 20 of them at $30 each, to calculate your profit you must now deduct the cost of the bottles you sold -- $110 (20 x $5.50 = $110) -- plus the cost of the 80 bottles you did not sell -- $440 (80 x $5.50 = $440). So your profit is just $50 -- ($600 - $110 - $440 = $50).

    But if you have made only the 20 bottles you sold, your profit would have been $490 -- ($600 - $110 = $490). Realistically, particularly at the beginning, you can't judge how many bottles you will sell but suppose you had produced two dozen (24) bottles. Now the cost of your unsold bottles would have been just $22 -- (4 x $5.50 = $22) -- and your profit would have been $486 -- ($600 - $110 - $22 = $486). That's a whole lot better than $50.

    It is an almost universal mistake of the first time perfume entrepreneur, producing too many bottles so too many go unsold. Look at the case here for two dozen (24) bottles: an impressive 400% profit from $132 invested. That's good business.

    Yes, it may seem small but with that profit you can expand. You can build, using the same strategy over and over again, gradually increasing your production without overproducing. Perfume is a business, not a casino. Don't become a gambler.

Cost effective small batch production     
    To make this strategy work profitably you'll need vendors who will sell you the components you need in small quantities. You'll find some help with this in my next message.

-- Phil Goutell

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Can you overcome these obstacles to create a successful perfume?

    If you are an "unknown" trying to create your own perfume, you will encounter serious obstacles. You may be able to overcome them.

    Perfumers -- people who create perfume -- fall into three categories. First there are those who are employed by an established fragrance creation houses. Then there are the "indie" perfumers, the independents who, through their skill, experience and persistence, have carved out an audience for the fragrances they create. Then there is "everybody else" -- all those like yourself perhaps who would like to make a successful perfume but aren't sure about the right track and, at this point in life, aren't sure you really can do it. In fact, you are facing serious obstacles.

Professional Training

    Perfumers at major -- global -- fragrance  creation houses have received training, either through their employers or through advanced academic work in chemistry or through one of the elite perfumery schools that accept only a handful of students for their multi-year, full time programs. An even smaller handful may rise within a fragrance creation house by showing such exceptional aptitude that they come to the attention of a senior perfumer who is willing to train them.

    Indi perfumers for the most part develop their skills on their own, through trial and error, through long hours of experimentation, and by grasping at any educational opportunity they come across. Few people have the "nose," stamina, and business sense needed to follow this path successfully.

    The problem for the everyday unknown who would like to create successful fragrances is simply lack of an opportunity to receive professional training. Their best hope might be the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course, a home study program with materials supplied, or a PerfumersWorld 5-day (and later advanced) workshop. Unfortunately, while the workshops are generally affordable, they require travel and the freedom from other responsibilities to have these five days plus travel days available.

    Thus, while some training1 resources available to "anyone," time and money are obstacles not so easily overcome.

Raw Materials

    Professional perfumers at global fragrance houses will have easy access to 2,000 to 3,000 raw materials. Perfumers at smaller establishments may have access to fewer raw materials but the number would still be impressive and would cover all that was needed to create almost any contemporary scent.

    But what about you? What do you have to work with? And where will you get your materials? In your quest for raw materials you will encounter four difficulties. First, if you lack professional training, you may not know the names of the materials that you want to "mess around" with and if you don't know their names, you can't shop for them. Second, you don't know where to go to purchase the materials you may want. Third, you may have trouble finding a company that will take a small order from someone who is not a regular customer. Finally, the smallest order most companies will fill will be for a kilo of each fragrance material -- and a kilo is more than you may need in a lifetime; more likely you will want to purchase just want a few grams.


    The professional, working for an established fragrance house, does not have to buy his or her own materials; the house supplies them. You will have to buy every raw material you want to use and many you don't know if you want to use or not until you've played with them a bit to see if they could work for your project.

    If you want to go "all natural," with the finest essential oils available, you will need a lot of money.

    There are economic ways to acquire a range of raw materials. This can involve starting your project with pencil and paper, being careful about what you will need, and understanding that your sources are limited so you select materials that are available to you from a reliable source at a reasonable cost. Even so, in developing an inventory of raw materials you can expect to spend several hundred dollars; five hundred would not be unrealistic.


    To devote yourself full time to perfume creation you must either be employed as a perfumer or you must be financially independent. For everyone else, creating perfume has to be spare time.

Some solutions

    For training, unless you have time for a 5-day workshop, the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course is your best bet. It is supervised home study; you can work it as your schedule allows, and it is open ended -- it leads you deeper into perfume creation rather than leaving you "finished" at the end of the course. All required materials are supplied with the course and it will have you creating simple but "real" perfumes, even on the first day. As you progress, your creations likely will become more sophisticated, more artistic, but even your early efforts will be quite satisfying, for you, for friends, and for customers.

    The raw materials issue can be addressed by shopping with one of two vendors who will supply raw materials in small quantities: PerfumersWorld (Bangkok, Thailand -- my prime source) and Perfumers Apprentice (Scotts Valley, California -- my secondary source). You can also try The Perfumers Studio (Los Angeles, California) that is associated with PerfumersWorld and may be able to provide supplies on request. While I sell the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course through my website, I do not stock or sell additional perfumery materials.

    The best way to be budget conscious is to think before you act and put your thoughts for your perfume down on paper before you invest in the supplies you'll need to make your trials. Also, for your first perfumes it pays to keep it simple. Using as few as five materials you can create very satisfying fragrances. consider the simplicity of a haiku.

For you, what is a "successful" perfume?

    I judge my creations by how others enjoy them. You may judge by the pleasure your own nose takes in what you've created but it's nice when others ask for one of your perfumes and even offer to pay you for it. But I've found that however good I think my "just finished" fragrance may be, I'm always a small bit dissatisfied and imagine that my next one will be better. You are likely to find this the case with the fragrances you create -- and they will keep getting better!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Making candles just for fun

Dipping the candle into a container of hot beeswax

   I was reading about some small, prestige (luxury) perfume marketer and noted that among their offerings were candles. Successful, smallish luxury perfumeries always seem to offer candles. Candles are easy to make and you don't have the shipping restrictions that come with (liquid) perfume.

    As kids in grade school we made candles for Christmas, one red, one green -- or two brown if you mixed up the red wax with the green wax and dipped into the wrong pot.

    Anyway, between reading about luxury perfumeries and their candles, childhood memories of making candles, and a box of beeswax I had for making solid perfumes, making a few candles seemed like a fun idea. All I lacked (so I thought) was wicks.

    Wicks are easy to find online. They don't cost much and mine arrived quickly. I ordered wicking for "hand dipped tapers." Different styles of candles require different types of wicks or so I read. I haven't made any tests.

    My wicks arrived, I set aside some time, I gathered up my materials and started on the project. The first issue was containers. I had the hotplate I'd been using to melt wax for solid perfumes. I had a pot to melt the wax in. The problem was to find a container into which I would pour the liquid wax after running it through a strainer to get out the larger impurities. This was, after all, unprocessed wax, wax straight from the beehive.

    I had envisioned making dipped candles at least eight to ten inches tall. The best container I could find in my studio was only about four inches tall.

    Now here's the scoop on dipping containers. Ideally they should be an inch or two taller than the size of the candle you want to make. To get the candle started, you need to tie a weight on the end of the wick to keep the wick straight until you've dipped it enough so the wax itself will keep it straight.

    The other issue of the dipping container is that you have to fill it with liquid wax. The greater the diameter of your pot, the more wax you'll need to melt and filter to fill the container. The diameter of my container was small, meaning I wouldn't need too much wax to fill it, only slightly more than what would go into the candle itself.

    Now, with my equipment prepared, I began to execute the steps.

    Wax burns so you've got to be careful when melting it. Also, since both pot and wax are hot, you must be careful so as not to burn yourself. I put the container with the wax in a Pyrex measuring cup and filled the cup part way with water, just enough water so that the wax container wouldn't float.

    Then I set the hotplate burner on high and took out a book. It takes a while for the wax to melt and you don't want to leave this operation unattended. Too many hazards. The wrong people could wander by, spilled wax could catch fire. Just stay there and keep an eye on it from start to finish.

    Bees wax has a pleasant scent of its own but because this is just an experiment for me, a test, I added some fragrance to the wax, a couple of small blocks of a solid perfume, wax that has already been scented.

    When the original, right from the beehive, wax has melted, I poured it through a strainer into another container. This is now the clean wax.

    Now I fill the dipping container with the clean wax and begin dipping, lowering the wick until the bolt hits the bottom of the can. I want to keep the wick as straight as possible as I dip so my candle will be straight.

    To speed the operation I have a tank of cool water and each time I dip my candle in hot wax I then dip it in the cool water so the wax will harden and I'll be ready to dip again.

    Here I've dipped until my candle is almost as wide as the opening in the dipping container. Then I'm finished.

    I let the finished candle set for a while in the cool water. Then I trim the wick and I'm done.

    The result? Small but beautiful and burning with wonderful scent.

    I've posted some more photos of this project along with a few more comments on my website. You might enjoy looking at them.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summer 2016: The Plan

Two years later, this is as far as I've gotten on this one.

    In front of me on my desk are nine trials from a perfume I started working on about two years ago. I didn't intentionally set it aside but other projects kept coming first.

    Working at this desk I am enjoying the faint aromas wafting toward me from these small mixing pots. But for the next two months I won't be doing any more mixing for this project.

    This summer, when we left Walden for Cape island, unlike other summers, I left all my cans, jars, and bottles of aroma material behind.

    It wasn't accidental. I was looking for a bit of space in my head to store up new scent discoveries and just rest a bit. Here in Clarks Harbour I have everything I need to work on a perfume -- alcohol, bottles, smelling strips, mixing pots -- everything but the aroma materials themselves but this summer I’ll just be thinking about scent.

Cape Sable Light, seen from the Hawk, NS, Canada
    Our house here in Canada is full of beautiful fragrances. Some are ones I’ve made for my wife; some are ones I've purchased for her. Outside we have flower gardens and a sculpture garden; the ocean is a few footsteps away. Lots of inspiration.

    There is more to creating a perfume than mixing. You might start by thinking of your "market" -- the people with whom you want to share your fragrance. Or it might just be a personal project, some scent idea you're chasing to see what will come of it. Regardless of why you want to develop a particular fragrance, it is central to your project to have a scent goal, the wished for fragrance you hope to achieve.

    This takes some thought, some meditation, and some time to mentally distill what you hope to achieve.

    So this summer I'm thinking about perfume. Collecting ideas. Storing up scent memories.

    In the fall I’ll be mixing again.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Your first step toward large profits from perfume

    Making your own artisinal perfume can be a rewarding activity and your starting point, your inspiration, can come from almost anywhere. But, if selling perfume profitably is your interest, there is only one starting point and it is the same for every company and individual. The starting point is your market.

    Any company that spends millions producing and marketing fragrance spends a great deal of time and money defining and researching their market. The fragrance they offer will "fit" the market they have identified. This market is where the money is to be found. If you want to sell your own perfume profitably, defining and researching your market is your first step. This step comes before you begin to develop your fragrance.

    What happens if you work backward? The fragrance first and then the search for a market? The result will almost certainly be a fiasco. Why? Because now you first have to find a market big enough to offer the potential you need. Then you have to find media that will let you communicate effectively with that market. But the reality is this after-the-fact market you've identified is likely fragmented. Fragmented markets present promotional difficulties. If your market is scattered you must use multiple media to try to round up buyers. Each has its own expense. You now have to work harder and spend more hours and dollars to make sales, assuming you are able to discover where potential buyers might be found.

    The emotional problem that puts the product before the market is enthusiasm for the product. This enthusiasm is typical of creative people. The cool-headed marketer on the other hand studies markets and looks for opportunities to sell perfume. Like a shark getting a taste of blood, the cool headed marketer rushes to develop a perfume after the market is spotted.

    For the creative person, developing the fragrance is the the fun. Working on a fragrance can make for great conversation. Talking about markets and market analysis and media costs is pretty boring, unless you are that marketer shark looking for an opportunity to make money.

    Then too, the person inspired by the desire to make perfume may have only the vaguest idea of how it will be sold. Ask this person how they intend to sell their fragrance and they might say, "Macy's," or "online," or "Walmart. This is simply not real. This is not how the start-up perfume entrepreneur makes money.

    So how do you, the novice perfume entrepreneur, go about finding a viable market for your first perfumes? Sadly, you must put aside your creative outlook and become analytical. Think small. Can you spot an opportunity to sell a few dozen bottles locally? Look around, in your community. Talk to people in the business of selling. Look for clusters of people with similar interests -- clubs, religious organizations, sports teams and their followers, local bands, local tourist organizations. Get out and talk, meet people, look for modest opportunities. Small successes are better building blocks than large failures. Small successes can lead to significantly larger opportunities.

    But whatever you do, if it's money you want, don't start spending it on your perfume until you've nailed down a ripe market.