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Deb Neuman Deb Neuman
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Are you stinky?

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On a recent shopping excursion I walked into a boutique-style store and immediately was transported back to my grandmother's southern California house. I have not experienced that smell for decades! I have no idea why that store took me back there, but it made me feel so warm and cozy that I didn't want to leave! Needless to say, I stayed for quite a while and dropped a few bucks (more than I had planned) as a result.

I later walked into a gourmet wine/cheese store and all I smelled was dog. Not in a pleasant way more like in a wet dog, stale, mildew kind of way. My eyes were attracted to the large selection of wines that were well merchandised but the powerful scent of wet dog was so overwhelming that the experience of my nose trumped the experience of my eyes. I could not get out of there fast enough.

Smell is our most powerful scent, yet it's one that businesses often overlook. Part of the challenge is that we spend so much time in our businesses after a while we can't smell it any more. Therefore it's critical that a business conduct regular 'smell tests' by asking customers and employees to honestly tell them, 'How does my place small?' 

I once boarded my cats at a wonderful B&B for cats. One day the owner asked me to tell her how her place smelled. She was concerned that it might smell like litter or cat food. She wanted her customers to know she kept her facility clean and knew how important smell was to their impression of her business. But she was too close to it to smell it any more. So I closed my eyes and sniffed. Surprisingly, my nose had no idea there were 15 cats boarding there. She did an amazing job keeping her facility clean and odor-free (I have one litter box and struggle with that).

Some noses are more sensitive than others, so overdoing it when it comes to scents can work against you in business. Medical facilities, gyms and other employers ask employees and patrons to refrain from using heavy perfumes, colognes and burning scented candles due to others sensitive noses. I avoid a particular craft store for that very reason. They scent their dried flowers and pinecones. It's so strong when I walk in that I can barely breathe and my eyes water. When I do need to go there, I hold my breath until I'm well past that section of the store. Needless to say, if a customer can't stand or is highly sensitive to the way a store smells, they won't shop and won't spend their money there!   

Smart retailers recognize that 'scent marketing' is as important to generating sales as what customers see and hear when they walk into a business. Restaurants, casinos, retail stores and hotels recognize the important role our noses play in how we view our experience with a business. Of course, the better the experience, the greater the sales! Smell triggers both our subconscious and conscious brain often reminding us of past events, both positive and negative, which makes it an imprecise science. 

In 2006, California's Milk Processor Board launched a series of "Got Milk?" billboards in San Francisco's bus shelters. The ads gave off the smell of chocolate chip cookies they hoped the smell would make people crave milk. But city officials ordered them to be taken down. The public was concerned the smells could trigger allergic reactions.  

I asked Facebook friends to share their thoughts about this topic:

'I've actually smelled some scents before entering and walked out - over-bearing candle scents or eucalyptus is a "no go" zone... Or store employees with too much perfume.'

'If a restaurant smells like floor cleaner and old fish, I'm outta there. Likewise, if a restaurant doesn't smell like anything, I'm less likely to stay. When a restaurant smells amazing the second you open the door, you can bet the food is pretty good'

'Restrooms that smell like they haven't been cleaned in ages are a huge turn off especially in a restaurant. If they can't keep their restroom clean, I don't even want to think about the kitchen!'

'I walked into a store that had a foul musty odor. Although there were some good deals, I didn't buy anything. I didn't want to bring that smell home with me.' 

'I have lingered longer in places where it smelled wonderful. Too much of a good thing (floor cleaner) can be almost as nauseating as too much of a bad thing (patchouli). Fresh roasted and brewed coffee is a particular favorite of mine.'

Of course, we all have very different noses. What may turn your nose off may turn someone else's nose on. The best thing a business can do is to pay attention to the important role your customers' noses play in your bottom line. The key to success is to attract people to your business and keep them there for as long as possible because they're having a great experience. The longer they're there, the more they'll spend and the greater the chance that they'll return. Your nose may be too close to your business to perform a 'sniff test.' So ask others to do it for you. We all know - the customer 'nose' best.

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