Wednesday, March 29, 2017

12 to 60: Getting alcohol for your perfume

This message is a continuation of a series on making a profit by making and selling just 12 bottles of perfume.

    Perfumery grade alcohol can be obtained in just about every corner of the world. But it is not always easy to find a source and it is difficult or impossible to find a source that will accept a small order -- a gallon, a liter, something along those lines. Your best (current, 3/29/17) hope of finding small quantities of  200 proof ethanol is in the U.S. or Canada. For the UK you may be relegated to a product sold as "perfumers alcohol" and sources can be found on Amazon UK.

    If you are following along with this "12 bottle production" project, a quart or liter should be all you need. Then, to get the proof you really want, you can mix it with de-ionized water.

    So there you are. In this series of articles we've covered bottles and closures, de-ionized water, and alcohol. All we need now is the fragrance.

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!