The Perfume Society: Josephine Fairley

The Green and Black's founder discusses her informational website for perfume-lovers and working harder "than you've ever thought possible"

Name: Josephine Fairley
Company name: The Perfume Society
Number of Employees: 4
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 26/05/2014
Website: www.perfumesociety.org

Tell us what your business does:

We’re a massive, informational website for perfume-lovers and those who want to find out about this fascinating area of creativity. In addition to this, we offer ‘discovery boxes’ (like a wine society but for perfume) as well as events for perfumistas around the UK, and an eight-times a year downloadable magazine The Scented Letter.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

There is literally nothing in the world for perfume-lovers to sign up to, to engage in this way. The perfume industry is worth anywhere between £60bn to £160bn a year (depending on who you ask). Vast resources are poured into training and educating industry insiders. We’ve both worked in the fragrance area for many years (Lorna McKay at Harrods and Liberty as buyer, myself as a journalist) and we wanted to share the extraordinary resources the industry offers us – in terms of access to people, stories, places and this whole creative art form – with a wider audience.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I Googled ‘Perfume Appreciation Society’ and the fourth entry that came up was ‘Steak Appreciation Society’ – so I knew there was a gap in the market.

What were you doing before starting up?

I’m now a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded Green & Black’s in 1991 with my husband Craig Sams and later opened a bakery in Hastings and a nine-room wellbeing centre in the town, The Wellington Centre.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

No! But when the opportunity to launch the world’s first organic chocolate arose, I realised that if I didn’t do it, I’d always wonder what would have happened if I had done it…

How did you raise the money?

We’ve done everything on very slender resources, but we have been able to do it without raising external funds due to being very careful with money and having tucked some away from the sales of our previous businesses.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We offer ‘Discovery Boxes’ with smelling notes that introduce subscribers to new perfumes. The samples are given to us by brands that wish to introduce their perfumes to passionate customers. After being on sale for a short period to subscribers-only, we will offer them to the wider public.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We had to get permission from The Secretary of State for Trade & Industry to have a business called a society (which we got, after jumping through quite a few legal hoops). In addition to this, we  have faced challenges with shipping perfume through the mail (it’s a restricted item), but have managed to partner with a third party distributor who takes care of this for us.

What was your first big breakthrough?

When Chanel offered to host our launch party!

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever thought possible. At the time of setting up a business, there are a gazillion things that need to be done – but most only need doing once (setting up VAT, PAYE, finding an office, etc.) so hold that thought!

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Meeting perfumers and subscribers, smelling gorgeous things, and having a blast doing this extraordinary work that is helping to open people’s eyes – and noses – to the phenomenal world of smell, and thereby improve what Helen Keller called ‘the fallen angel of our senses’. It turbo-charges pleasure in life, and that’s what we want to spend the next 10 years doing.

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