12/31/16

"People Are Reading Claire's Blog," And Why Andy Tauer Is Totally Full Of It



Friends, it looks like we have another diatribe against perfume bloggers, made by a successful perfumer who blithely throws shade at the practice of giving samples, while hypocritically extolling the the value of Facebook "advertising." Andy Tauer, one of the most successful indie-niche small-house perfumers of the last ten years, is evidently a bit nonplussed by something written by ClaireV at takeonethingoff.com (I not longer link to other blogs, simply because I don't want to make indirect endorsements).

To sum up, Claire simply observed the overnight success of relative newcomer Parfums Dusita, which recently smashed luxury market expectations, releasing new fragrances at $100 an ounce without feeling the familiar sting of shooting high and missing. Dusita's fragrances are selling quite well, apparently. There are many super wealthy people willing to plunk down four hundred dollars for yet another obscure oud perfume. Good for Dusita. What does this have to do with Andy Tauer?

Andy wrote a memo to fans on his own blog, addressing what he feels are the changing times in the business. According to him, free samples and "sample draws" on fragrance blogs bring no new customers - absolutely none. And Andy feels that fragrance blogs used to be useful sites, capable of drawing customers, but are no longer of any value. Bloggers don't understand, says Andy. They don't understand the market, they don't appreciate what it takes to succeed, they applaud $400 perfumes without knowing what they're doing, and nowadays they're no better than purveyors of "fake news."

Pardon my French, Andy, but I think you're full of shit. I distinctly recall a couple years ago your linking my reviews of your fragrances on your Facebook page, with plenty of "likes" to give your older fragrances an instant publicity bump - free of charge. My blog wasn't "useless" in those cases, was it? I was praising your fragrances, and rightfully so. Your fragrances are terrific. To my knowledge, most (if not all) fragrance blogs have done nothing but say good things about your fragrances, arguably the only reason you were able to clear the financial hurdles of the first few years of your business and eventually become an inspiration to us all. So what's with the sudden disdain for blogs? You didn't have it when you were reading and sharing mine.

Then we get the Basenotes echo chamber, with countless members weighing in on Andy's post, and Claire's by proxy. (If Andy hadn't mentioned the $400 thing, no one would have connected his rant to her post.) And we get a lot of the recycled bullshit we always get from basenotes members. Let's all agree with Andy! Let's all furrow our brows at Claire. Well not all of us. Let's some of us sympathize with Claire and Andy. Let's act like Andy has a point. Let's pretend that his perfumes are reasonably priced (they're really not).

You know what would be refreshing? If companies like Parfums Dusita and Tauer cut the bullshit and released well made, adventurous compositions using excellent materials for ten dollars an ounce. One basenotes member claimed that people don't understand the actual prices of high quality synthetics, and that some are $100 a ml. Yeah, maybe for you to buy them, but not for professionals. Besides, you're talking apples and oranges when you try to parse the prices for quality synthetics into the retail value of a perfume. Most formulas are using miniscule amounts of each, with the cheapest and most effective pre-made bases comprising the bulk of what you smell, much like the Schiff base did decades ago.

I'm getting really tired of hearing a few things from the perfume industry. First, I'm tired of hearing from perfumers that blogs are useless to their business. If they were, then guys like Andy Tauer wouldn't be reposting my reviews for their own benefit, and they wouldn't be getting annoyed with other bloggers and "responding" to them on their own sites. As one basenotes member noted, "People are reading Claire's blog." The thread on this topic extended into what ClaireV wrote, and if blogs were irrelevant, Andy wouldn't be reading them, and wouldn't have read Claire's post.

Second, I'm sick and tired of hearing all of this false equivalency in the community. Claire, stop prattling on about production and market pricing. Any perfumer creating high-end fragrances is going to pour a bit more money into their formulas then your average mass-market designer brand would, but that doesn't really justify the markup. If I go to KMart and spend twenty bucks on a four ounce bottle of Coty Aspen, I know I'm getting a good perfume at a fair price. It's using most of the same ingredients that Creed uses in Green Irish Tweed, which costs fifteen times as much for no reason other than more expensive packaging, and greedier noses.

The idea that Parfums Dusita wouldn't sell their perfumes at the same volume (or better) if they priced for the lower end designer market is absurd. Can you imagine how many basenoters and Fragranticans would be swarming Parfums Dusita for their frags if they were $40 a bottle? The quality to price ratio would be the biggest draw, and news about it would spread like wildfire in both communities, and across the blogosphere. For the first time in god knows how long, people would have affordable access to unique, well-crafted compositions with perfume strength and the commercial cache of Middle Eastern exoticism. You could sell one bottle to hundreds of American enthusiasts instead of eight bottles to one oil baron in Qatar.

The synthetics and naturals being used are sometimes pricy, but you can price well under $400 a bottle and still make a profit if you're being honest. The sheer volume of perfumes sold would make up for any perceived overhead gap. Niche is struggling in America right now, and it's not because there's a shortage of people who want to buy. It's because niche brands have priced the average American consumer out of the market, and they've done it under cover of apologists who act like it's smart business.

What do true fragrance lovers complain about the most? The shortage of "quality" in what is available.

We all hear the complaints about reformulations, about how natural materials, note clarity, accord fidelity, and longevity have been abandoned by designers. Just think about what could happen if one - just one - perfumer actually kept the faith and produced complex, crystalline perfumes at a fraction of current designer prices. That's a business strategy that takes real balls. That's what nobody is doing, because it's easier to bitch and moan about how difficult the market is for newcomers, how they must price fragrances at a dollar a ml to keep from going out of business. Meanwhile, many still go out of business. Anyone remember J&E Atkinsons? B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful? When was the last time you saw a Floris store in North America? Oh, I remember: ten years ago. How long do we have to watch L'Artisan gasp for breath before they go under?

Allow me to play the smallest violin for these poor suckers.

Go ahead, be a new niche brand, and enter the market charging $140 a bottle, like Kerosene did a few years ago. Tell me again about how you can't afford to charge anything less than that, when you can find online much of what comprises your formulas for pennies on the dollar. When people like Bigsly have supposed perfumers saying on his blog that naturals cost less than synthetics. Pour gallons of synthetics into a big jug, sprinkle them with a few native oils, call the whole stew "niche," and pray that a Saudi prince discovers you.

Then start a blog, complain about other people's blogs, and tell me that giving two or three free samples to readers doesn't generate any sales. Which brings me to my third and last complaint: perfumers bullshitting people about samples. No Andy, giving a handful of free samples to as many anonymous people online won't generate additional sales. What do you expect? You have to be generous with samples, and offer sizable coffrets for free, boxes with four or five samples. You have to send them out to anyone who asks for them. You have to give them away like candy. That's what designers did for years and years. Take a little loss on them. But take that loss knowing that if your perfumes are getting into people's hands for no money, just a few more may be willing to spend your asking price on a bottle of whatever they liked.

Your mentality is, "samples don't work." Yeah, they do. You just don't want to take the necessary risk on them anymore. So you're bullshitting us with the argument that they don't help sales. You tell readers that free sample draws, where one or two readers are privy to maybe three or four samples, do zero good for your bottom line. No shit. I'm stunned.

As long as the mentality shared by Andy and Parfums Dusita pervades the fragrance world, middle class buyers don't stand a chance.

The future is bleaker than these people realize. Making perfume unaffordable to all but a few only works when the few are allowed to prosper by all. With enough time, enough Trump, enough middle class anger and disgust, even the upper echelon of niche may realize they limited their growth potential and damaged their brands by only catering to the one tiny subset of people that isn't growing: the rich.



7 comments:

  1. From Andy's blog-
    "My five cents: It is an example of the shifts happening; 10 years ago, it was a different world and the (few) blogs had some importance as intermediary to an interested and focused public that bought. These days, well, there are many more blogs and they talk to circles that are overlapping to a large extent and they are talking to a public that does not buy selective (artisanal limited distribution perfumery) niche, at least not in the extend they did in 2007; for many reasons that go beyond this post. And some of the blogs out there talk often in a confusing way, comparing artisanal with LVMH, expecting mass market esthetics in artisanal perfumery, pricing like in a drugstore, or in the contrary applauding 400$ fragrances, not understanding any of the market's mechanics, without questioning what is happening, mixing opinions and facts, in a fake news way. Very unprofessional many of them. Hurting more than helping. Sorry."

    Hmmm....
    Well, I can see his point. There are a LOT of crappy, badly written blogs out there nowadays. Some of them are quite popular like the one with a Kafka reference in it's name that just parrots 'experts' opinions in an overly dramatic matter. I think Andy just needs to sift through that teeming multitudes of crap & find the ones that are more suited to his product (IMHO). Granted that takes quite a bit of time and patience, but that's just how it is now.

    As far as 'free' samples go- they've been disappearing over the last 15 yrs from ALL fragrance, makeup, & skin care brands. The only exception to this are a few of the old American brands like Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden. If I make a purchase over $50 I know I'm going to get samples from EA & EL. The cost of 'free' samples is more in the labor not the product. Andy says he won't raise his prices this year, perhaps he's following the trend of saving costs by not giving out free samples or giveaways anymore? He has enough of a fan base where any new releases will probably be bought out immediately just because it has Tauer on the label.

    I get a kick out of these new niche houses from nobody & nowhere that think I'm going to pay $7 to sample ONE of their products. I recall one new house started by two 20-somethings from my native northern California recently. I believe they wanted $185 for an ounce of any of their fragrances. Neither of them had any formal perfumery training aside from a weekend hobby course. Both were recent MBA grads of my alma mater, UC. They had a quaint/faux turn of the century European theme to their new little business. In fact their entire sales pitch was a few photos of themselves in a rose garden around old Sacramento wearing Victorian garb and fanciful whiskers. Their website was festooned with Victorian & Edwardian fonts & frills too. The bottles were the cheapest ounce rectangles with some cheapo computer printed labels slapped on them. What surprised me was that NOWHERE did they go into detail about the quality of the oils & extracts they used nor what exactly made their new 'fumes so ridiculously expensive. With the exception of groundbreaking icon Jicky most Victorian/Edwardian fragrance was simply mediocre quality soliflores or rather wan and basic floral waters- why would I pay beaucoup $$$ for that? At least make an effort to SELL me the danged juice and justify your ridiculous prices!!! If they had distilled their rose or lavender water from flowers they grew themselves I might consider their prices reasonable. Otherwise I'm sure they just bought a few essential oils from Eden Botanicals or another good supplier, diluted & mixed them & chucked them in a bottle. Geez, for that price you'd expect price a handwritten or engraved label in true Victorian style. I really don't know what some of these 'niche' folks are thinking.

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    1. You're right of course about the blogs being overwhelming for any industry person to navigate, but in a sense this has always been true. I got into this pursuit nine years ago, and even then there were at least thirty of forty blogs, most of which were half-assed and very poorly written. I guess you could argue that this isn't much, but given that the industry was smaller, especially for niche, it seems commensurate.

      As for samples, in a sense the industry as a whole, including the majority of designer, has scaled way, way back. But designer brands still offer samples in magazine strips, more so now than before. So even if they aren't giving me liquid in the store, I can buy a monthly mag and get five or six samples in it. It's cheating, I know, but at least it's something.

      Niche is naturally a different game, and because it's different, I see no reason why they should adopt the same mentality as designer - or in this case, an even worse mentality, since niche doesn't provide sample strips in magazines. With niche you're a company aiming for a much smaller target than Dior or Chanel. The big houses are aiming for the majority of buyers. Niche is implicitly aiming for a tiny fraction of the majority. With such a small base, it makes sense to offer samples with everything, for everything, always. Cheaping out? Why would this ever work for an independent perfume brand? I thought offering premium product AND service was supposed to be the trend in niche?

      And regarding upstart niche brands charging out the wazoo . . . . I get it. You're in it for the money. You have little to no experience in the business, so you figure your exposure is astronomical, and you have to hedge on market pricing. But why exactly should I as a customer accept your risk as my loss? If your product has no established pedigree, and your credentials in the industry are nonexistent, and whatever you're peddling is competing with literally thousands of other brands, your prices should be competitive. You're not a "luxury label." You're an upstart in a luxury market. There's a big difference. Back in the forties and fifties, Chanel No 5 was a drugstore perfume. It took decades to get elevated to the department store price point. And No 5 was a groundbreaking composition using relative new materials. What does a niche upstart offer now that is in any way deserving of elevation and adulation later? Like you said, tell me explicitly - what are the materials in your perfumes? Where did they come from? From where did you get your perfumery training? Expository narration is direly needed.

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  2. I've swapped paper samples with more than a few people. The 100 zip lock mini bags cost about $1 total and I use unbleached coffee filter paper, which seems to do the best job. For the cost of a stamp I have gotten a very good idea about what I scent smells like. If a perfumer can't afford this, he/she could ask for the person to pay for the stamp and a few cents for the other items. I think a bigger problem is that the person will smell the sample, whether it is in a vial or sprayed on a piece of paper, and think, "I already have something that is close enough so I'll spend that $200 on something else."

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    1. Well Bigsly there's no accounting for whether or not a potential customer will appreciate what a perfumer is trying to convey in a particular composition, so the question of whether the customer will opt to buy or opt out based on the availability of a more favorable comparative (to whatever is sampled) is impossible for me, for Mr. Tauer, or for anyone to answer. But I agree that the total cost of sending out a sample shouldn't prohibit perfumers from engaging in sampling schemes. You can budget the sample supply into your annual books and still come away far ahead with good overall sales. I don't mind if Mr Tauer, or any perfumer for that matter, opts out of providing samples - that's their prerogative. It's quite literally their business. BUT don't toss out boneheaded lines saying samples don't help sales. It's not really possible for a company to claim with certainty that samples do not help sales. What Mr. Tauer forgets is that there are plenty of grey market samples of his older fragrances (and even some newer ones) floating around out there, so even if he compares sales years between years he provided samples and years he didn't, and finds the stats to be roughly the same, that doesn't mean samples aren't helping him, it just means he can't quantify how much they are because he isn't providing them, and isn't controlling the data. I wonder if Andy Tauer has ever integrated a serious sampling scheme into his business model, or if he just had an informal handout method and relied on the grey market to do the rest.

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  3. I agree, and in fact as I was writing the comment, I forgot to mention that it's clear that there was a kind of circulation of samples, especially niche ones, several years ago. I did a lot of swapping back then and almost always received a few samples (then I began to return the favor). How could anyone say that this didn't help sales. One thing I do think deserves mentioning is that I got the impression that many of these people who wrote up one review after the other of niche scents probably didn't own many actual bottles. How many reviews contain, "I like it, but not enough to buy a bottle." I have the opposite view - if I like it I want a bottle, unless it's really close to something I already have. My guess is that a different mindset is at work here.

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  4. There's no way Tauer would manage to be as popular as he is if not for blogs and vlogs. He's treated like the second coming of christ in nearly every review of anything he releases.
    Maybe he gets more hits to his site from fora, Basenotes/Fragrantica review pages, or the relentless sponsored pushes from Facebook (and all those could be tracked since there are direct links to his site or places to purchase his frags), but I can't imagine that popular blogs and vlogs aren't getting people to check out his scents too. Even written blogs are still a major part of social media.
    I also remember he recently posted why he can sell his fragrances so "cheaply," and attributed it to a lot of his DIY model to everything. I was peeved that he didn't mention all the free word of mouth he gets, since he's among the most talked about indie/niche perfumers around

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    1. Yeah when perfumers start saying b.s. things about systems of free advertising that they've been exploiting for financial gain, I don't know. I don't think Andy is a bad guy, and I don't think he's trying to be arrogant and "stingy" or anything, I think it's just unfortunately a vibe he's giving off lately. I can almost understand his position on sampling, if he wants to get all mathematical and break it down and show me some percentage of losses, that would be more than I deserve. But to say blogs aren't helping. Wow. Bloggers get crapped on all the time. Perfumers like Andy get constant praise and adulation - from blogs. THAT's the reality.

      If Andy wants "fake news," he should tune into one of America's main news networks, any one of them - take your pick! I'm not saying all the blogs are right, but it seems like there are plenty of good, hard working perfume bloggers who get top billing for attention whenever Andy releases something, and I seriously doubt anything written has ever really hurt his business.

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