Melissa Fensterstock on the launch of a luxury fragrance that doubles as a pesticide


Melissa M. Fensterstock holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked primarily in life sciences and luxury consumer products and is currently Senior Director of Business Development at a publicly traded biotechnology company.

Yet Melissa and her husband Michael Fensterstock are also the co-founders of the luxury fragrance Aromaflage, which also serves as a pesticide, inspired by their travels abroad. I sat down with Melissa to discuss her journey towards launching Aromaflage, not only the challenges of creating demand for a new brand, but also the opportunities that arise for this essentially new category: fragrance with function.

Tiffany Pham: What prompted them to expand beyond healthcare to found the luxury brand Aromaflage?

Mélissa Fensterstock: I’m a mosquito magnet and got tired of spraying on chemicals, smelling toxic and rubbing my ankles before retiring for the evening. I knew there were plenty of others who were facing a similar problem. My background in the healthcare industry has prepared me for many aspects of building a luxury brand. Both are consumer products, R&D driven and operate in regulated industries that depend on clinical trials. What is most difficult about biotechnology and pharma is the very long development times and the large amounts of capital required for commercialization due to heavy regulation. It can take 10 years for a new drug to market, resulting in a high failure rate. By having condensed development times for beauty and retail, more time can be spent on testing, iteration and learning to improve future product cycles.

Caption: Melissa Fensterstock explains the process by which she started Aromaflage.

Pham: What was your plan of action once you decided to start your own business?

Fensterstock: The genesis of Aromaflage began while vacationing in Southeast Asia with my husband Michael. Upon returning from our trip, the first step was to legally establish our company and file any required legal protection, such as trademarks. At this point, it was already January and insect season was less than six months away! We needed to establish our supply chain and source over 8 components from 3 continents. Many of our suppliers had high minimums and long delivery times, so we had to act quickly but carefully to manage our inventory risk. Once we sorted out our supply chain, the next call to action was to figure out our sales strategy and combination of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail. Our gut told us that the approach should integrate the two. We’ve built our list of key retailers and started contacting and securing pre-orders. At the same time, we generated buzz, selectively reaching out to prestigious print magazines, online media and bloggers.

Pham: What tactics did you use to get Aromaflage off the ground quickly, and get it offered by luxury hotels to their clientele as well as featured in countless high-end publications?

Fensterstock: First of all, Aromaflage works, is stylishly designed, and people love it. As any salesperson can tell you, having a good product makes selling a lot easier. That being said, a great product won’t sell and requires some fussing. Our story is compelling and Aromaflage tackles a common problem with a simple solution. Ever since we have been trying to innovate and create a new category of beauty, a fragrance with a function for the outdoor lifestyle, buyers and hoteliers have been receptive to the concept. We are not in direct competition with the products on the shelf, so in many ways selling is not that difficult. Luxury hotels want to offer their guests something special and unique during their 5 star vacation. Exposing vacationers to new, creative brands is a great way to make their vacation more memorable. Years after traveling, I still pair the scents I have discovered on my travels (like Bvlgari citrus lotion) with refreshing showers after a long day at the beach. The scents evoke powerful memories.

As for the press, we have not hired a public relations agency. The best news organizations have significant fees and are not necessarily performance-based. A startup doesn’t have $ 5,000 a month to spend. We started off by writing our own compelling email with professional photos and figured out how Aromaflage could appeal to the given readership. We were careful when we sent products. Beauty and lifestyle publishers have a room filled with untouched, unopened, unseen gifted products – what a tragedy. We didn’t deliver the product blindly, but rather when a publisher expressed interest, then a beautiful package was delivered and with quick follow-up. Tracking is essential, as publishers can receive up to 40 packages per day. The press also breeds the press, so starting with a few clutch press pieces allowed us to take advantage of that coverage, but also generated new press leads (although that never seems to be enough). The press can lead directly to sales, but generally helps build brand awareness and credibility.

Pham: What have been the personal and professional challenges you have faced, going from corporate research and development to building a luxury consumer brand?

Fensterstock: The times associated with relaxation and vacations now rhyme with work. Trips to tropical locations have helped attract new hotel guests. Daylight saving time at the beach has been replaced with road trips to the Hamptons and Nantucket. I think the only safe place for a real vacation now is an iceberg cruise in Antarctica.

Professionally, the biggest challenge was that my only insight into luxury consumer goods was my experience as a consumer. Understanding a market need and spotting an opportunity is only the first chapter. Branding and marketing are a big part of the game, as consumers are sophisticated and demanding, and pricing and positioning are not intuitive. A brand must be built and cultivated over time. Branding is not a science, unlike the stereotypical approach taken in healthcare.

Pham: You mentioned that you were looking to create a new category: perfume with a function. What future do you see for this sector?

Fensterstock: We try to solve a number of real life problems with practical and beautiful solutions. Our first scent is also an insect repellent. The next logical extension to the product line is an outdoor candle that also repels insects, launched this summer. Citronella candles are an eyesore and a noxious smell. We’re looking to create other natural products that aren’t related to the insect repellant theme, but are rooted in a casual chic outdoor lifestyle – think your Cabana Boy on the go.

We hope to be the driving force and the creator of this new category, the perfume with function. Consumers are looking for flexibility, creativity and optionality in their purchases. Starting with our line of perfume products, we hope to expand into other lifestyle products. The vision is to harness the power of essential oils to provide healthy and functional solutions. I would finally like to create a new corner in department stores and cosmetics stores.

Pham: What successes have you had so far at Aromaflage, related to your vision for the future of beauty and luxury retail? What new opportunities are you working towards?

Fensterstock: A trend we’ve seen in retail is the rise of social mission companies, such as Warby Parker, Maiyet, and Bombass. We too believe in doing good by doing good. Aromaflage is hand-blended by Burmese refugee women who are at home, educated and employed. Integrating elements of the developing world’s supply chain is by no means a straightforward task. Over the next few years, I think we will continue to see this business model expand from consumer products to other sectors.

Our society has become increasingly aware and aware of the ingredients in everyday consumer products. While the green and organic movement can be extreme and expensive, a large part of the population is now being educated on safe and natural alternatives to chemicals laden with chemicals. What we liked most about Aromaflage when we discovered it on our travels was not only that it worked, but also that it was free from harmful chemicals and toxins. In beauty, from skin care with Indie Lee to hair care with Briogeo to nail care with Zoya, there are a number of emerging beauty brands founded by women passionate about healthy living and delivering products. with results. As we see, if given access and choice, consumers gravitate towards natural and effective alternatives.

Given the complexities of manufacturing and prototyping, I hope we will be able to take advantage of 3D printing technology in the near future. Long lead times and large production runs limit our ability to create small runs and improve our product. What can take 6 months to achieve with traditional methods can be achieved in minutes with 3D printing.

Pham: Do you have any advice for other professionals looking to launch their own consumer luxury brand?


It takes time: There is no miracle solution. Everyone wants to rush success, but building a brand takes patience.

Everyone has an opinion: Have a few advisors selected who can really add significant value to your brand.

A brand is a matter of trust and loyalty: Make decisions that help build your credibility, stimulate repeat use and sharing.

Limit your fixed costs: The fewer fees, salaries, and overheads, the better when income is initially unpredictable. Find people willing to be flexible with startups.

Understand the origin of your request: Is it linked to the press, to repetition, to references? Understanding the drivers will help inform the underlying business decisions, investments and strategy.

Rapid growth is not always the answer: There is something to be said for slow growth, perfecting the product and its message.

No company is perfect: Every business has its challenges and unanswered questions.

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