Latest episode to date, the opening at the end of June, of a new perfume shop named Nose, in a pedestrian area in the centre of Paris, near the Place des Victoires and the Sentier, but a quite away from the main tourist hotspots. "The customers we are targeting are the Parisians, the neighbourhood and the curious ones, those who are interested in niche perfumes. Of course, foreigners and those on the lookout for the latest trends and fashions are also paying a visit, but they are not our main target," explains Nicolas Cloutier, co-founder and President of Nose. [1]

Does that mean there is room in France for alternative fragrance brands and retailers?

The missing link in retail

Nose was born from the observation that most niche fragrance brands are French, but usually make more business abroad than in France,” says Silvio Levi, one of the seven co-founders of Nose and also the founder of Esxense, the annual event dedicated to artistic perfumery in Milan.

The high concentration at the retail level in France (perfumery chains, such Marionnaud, Sephora and Nocibé, hold more than 70% of the market) makes the environment even more difficult for small brands. A situation contrasting with the Italian retail structure where there is a much higher rate of independent operators, including an interesting proportion that is very interested in alternative perfumes. The situation is quite similar in other European countries, such as Germany, The Netherlands, or even Hungary and Rumania.

There are 20 to 30 outlets - traditional stores or concept-stores - that take the floor against the standard offer. In Germany or in Italy there are 250 to 300 of them, with a specific knowledge about niche perfumery,” explains François Hénin, President of Jovoy.

Where French chain stores only see low-turnover products, these alternative retailers do see an opportunity to stand out from the mass and to capture demanding and rather affluent customers.

Though, French consumers have repeatedly shown their interest in original brands, with a limited distribution, when they succeeded in gaining visibility, by entering in department or concept stores or by opening their own outlets. According to Nicolas Cloutier, "buyers of niche brands were already there, but nobody - or hardly anybody - was addressing their demand,” .

A rather curious situation indeed, where an abundant offer was coexisting with a real demand but where structured intermediates were lacking.

While some perfumeries outside Paris - Parfumerie de l’Opéra in Bordeaux, Parfumerie Santa Rosa in Toulouse, or Parfumerie du Soleil d’Or in Lille - have proposed a real alternative offer to their customers, they had no equivalent in Paris, where the offer was fragmented between brand owned stores, department stores and fashion concept stores such as Colette or L’Éclaireur.

We thought that this situation could led to the resurgence of alternative retailers in France and that there was a huge opportunity to rebuild a distribution network for niche brands in this country,” explains Silvio Levi.

Mobile perfumery

In order to expand the distribution and spread the culture of creative perfumery with both customers and distributors, Francois Hénin, imagined an original concept: the perfumery in a trunk.

"There are two barriers that prevent small niche brands from being accepted by traditional retailers: lack of cash on the one hand and lack of shelf space on the other hand," he says.

To circumvent these barriers, he developed a wheeled-trunk capable of carrying 16 different bestselling items. The trunk occupies only a small space on the ground and the retailer only has to fund the purchase of a limited number of products. The trunk can also be placed in hotels or spas.

"It is an idea among others, but we are considering other potential concepts such as pop-up retail shops in a high traffic area, or the reproduction of our concept in the form of small size franchises, from 30 to 40 m2," concludes Hénin.

Need for expertise

In this market, retailers cannot simply differentiate themselves with their range of products. Since creative perfumery is refocusing on the fragrance rather than on packaging and advertising, customers needs a lot of education and assistance.

At Nose, they have conceived a dedicated tool that helps choosing the right perfume, but always with the help and with the explanations of a shop assistant. An innovative tool that could appeal customers in search for different products and help to enter into a virtuous circle of market development. "The more we improve the distribution network, the more demand will increase," insists Silvio Levi.