I arrived at the Broad Street offices of the startup institute and co-working space IFEL (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership) last month to find Bart Schmidt working, earbuds in, at his fairly unadorned desk, which housed only his laptop, a notebook, a single folder, and five nondescript fragrance vials.
But Schmidt had a lot more going on than was apparent from his spare workspace.
Schmidt is an entrepreneur and fragrance agent, a function he’s basically pioneering. Try Googling “fragrance agent”, for instance, and you’ll find not a career category, but result upon result for Agent Provocateur perfume. He launched his agency, Brands with Purpose, early this year.
Schmidt, who’s also a musician, and occasionally plays local gigs, talked to me about the new business venture and business model he’s trailblazing right here in Newark, his upcoming perfume line with celebrity chef Roblé Ali, and what it’s like to be a Newark-based entrepreneur.
Andaiye Taylor: What does Brands with Purpose do?
Bart Schmidt: We are a fragrance agency, and we help established brands start their own beauty lines. It can be anything from a fashion designer to a lifestyle brand, music, the arts, and celebrities. There are a lot of brands that are branching out into fragrance and beauty as their first licensing opportunity, and this is where I help folks to not only get the best creative people around, but also in terms of the art, packaging, design, manufacturing, distribution — everything.
When did you establish the business?
Before this, I was working corporately in fragrance for 20 years. I started Brands with Purpose at the beginning of this year. But even in my corporate career, I’ve always been involved in new business development.
Why did you establish in Newark?
I established in Newark because being part of the Newark community is a big thing for me. One of my goals is to raise the awareness of fragrance. People think fragrance is mysterious, and I want the opportunity to open it up. And in terms of customers, urban consumers are a bigger user of fragrance and beauty products. I want to play on a target market that hasn’t been prioritized in the past.
The Latino and African-American markets are the biggest beauty and fragrance consumers: they average two times more purchases per year than the average American consumer. It’s well known that they have more beauty products, and spend more of their disposable income on beauty products. And yet they’re still underrepresented in terms of lines that are focusing on the multi-ethnic demographic.
I donate a percentage of my top-line sales to urban and youth development, including ASP – the All-Stars Project – which has an affiliate in Newark at 33 Washington Street, and Elementz.org, another hip-hop youth organization in Cincinnati. I’m currently on their board. I have a music background, so I’ve always been involved in urban music.
What does it mean to be a fragrance agent?
I am the middleman between the personalities that want to have their own fragrance and the producers, the distributors, and other people it takes to make a fragrance happen. I consult with them about their goals and walk them through the process.
I used to work for one of the fragrance houses that just created the fragrance – the juice. The bigger [fragrances houses] have internal agencies, but not many folks do this as an independent agent.
What do your interactions with clients look like?
In my first interaction, I tell clients, “This is not a one-shot deal: this is a longer-term process.” A lot of times, there’s a licensing agreement between the celebrity and beauty company. I will approach big beauty companies – Estée Lauder, Avon, etcetera – and gauge their interest in working with that celebrity.
How do you pitch your clients to the beauty companies?
A lot of them are pretty well-known, but it helps to have the press kit from their PR team and management team, which will have information about their [social media] followers, who they know, projects they’ve done, things they’re going to do, and [the degree of their] name recognition. Some are very elaborate, and include data about a celebrity’s overall “reach” within a market.
When it comes to licensing, the deal itself is between the celebrity and the beauty company that I identify for them. The licensing agreements are quite simple and standard in the industry.
Do you advise them about whether doing a fragrance is a good idea at all? Are there instances when it isn’t a good idea?
Timing is everything in this business, just like in other business. Some try too early; some wait too long. It’s a feel type of thing: if they don’t have the name recognition, they might not get the deal.
Fragrance is a great way to get name recognition. You can also reach an audience that wasn’t even aware of the brand and the person. Sean Jean is an example: people know P. Diddy, but didn’t necessarily identify him with his fashion brand. Not until his fragrance did Sean Jean become such a household name.
The big beauty companies spend quite a bit of money through beauty magazines. And besides the advertising, a lot of editors like writing about beauty. It’s a big branding opportunity.
Celebrities want to round out their brand personalities, because there’s a big advantage to having a fragrance legacy. Chanel makes more money in fragrance than in fashion.
Can you talk about anyone you’re working with right now?
In general, with the brands, personalities, and celebrities that I work with, things need to stay under wraps until everything is a sealed deal, which can take 12 – 18 months from the start of a project.
But I can talk to you about the Chef Roblé (celebrity chef with a Bravo reality series) line, which is coming out soon.
He’s doing a fragrance line?
He is, and here’s Roblé’s specific thinking: it’s not that common that a celebrity chef has a perfume line, even though cooking and perfumery are very closely aligned. He’ll actually be incorporating elements from some of his signature dishes into the fragrance.
Schmidt dabs a fragrance sample onto my wrist. I raise it to my nose; it smells like a sweet cocktail.
That’s a cocktail scent – it’s one of the components that will be part of the fragrance. For Roblé’s line, we like to think of them as “recipes”. Now smell your wrist again.
I follow suit, and describe the scent to Schmidt as “almond cake”.
It’s French toast crunch. It’s one of his signature notes – he really loves it.
How is it that the smell changes over time?
“Top”, “mid”, and “dry” is the sequence of the fragrance – it has to do with the volatility of the materials in it. The flighty ones are the top notes. Then it gets into the heart – the floral components that are also, from a molecular perspective, heavier. The base notes are the ones that linger.
When is this going to be on the market?
The line is going to be coming out spring of next year. Right now, we’re in the final stages of packaging and design.
How many more clients besides Chef Roblé do you have in your pipeline, and at what stages?
I have four other projects running, in various stages. Two of them are celebrities, and two are fashion-related.
How much do you envision scaling your business? Do you plan to add more account management resources? Company operations resources?
When I do scale, I’m going to add more marketing and account management resources. I’m actually going to outsource a lot of the operations side.
Are your out-of-town clients aware that you’re a Newark-based business? Does that come into the conversation?
For a lot of people, it’s not the first choice to have a business here. The fact that I’m a Newark-based business is part of my branding.
And how has having a business in Newark been beneficial to you?
The folks that run IFEL (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, out of who’s co-working space Schmidt operates his business) are a great team. Jill, Pernell and George (IFEL’s CEO, client success manager, and program coordinator, respectively) are doing a lot of the day-to-day work. They organize frequent get-togethers. We’ll have lunches with a number of entrepreneurs, eating together and exchanging ideas. There’s a lot of cross-pollination.
I had the idea for the business when I came [to IFEL], but they helped me with a lot of the local contacts. I wouldn’t have found my attorney group and other local suppliers without them, so I’ve been connected with a lot of resources through them.
What’s the entrepreneur community like here in Newark?
I like to do business with people that have the same kind of mindset and philosophy. Connect, create, and consider are my three C’s. The consideration piece is about giving back. Today’s entrepreneurs are very much aligned to that — there is a lot more thought to social sustainability. I’m from the Roseland/Montclair area, but I wanted to have an office here. There’s a great business movement here, and I think Newark is, overall, turning a corner.