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The greatest smelling convention ever?

Many DNC visitors will get a whiff of Charlotte-based ScentAir’s work

By Celeste Smith
cesmith@charlotteobserver.com

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  • White tea to China Rain

    Here’s where ScentAir is in the air in and around Charlotte:

    • Mez restaurant and EpiCentre Theater – Asian Garden

    • Bar Cocoa, the chocolate bar at Ritz-Carlton – Cocoa

    • Westin Uptown – White Tea by Westin

    • Elevation Church – China Rain

    • Avenue Uptown condos – Green Tea & Lemongrass and Asian Garden

    • Carolinas Medical Center locations throughout Charlotte – Lavender Vanilla

    • Great Wolf Lodge – Redwood Forest

    • Palisades Country Club – White Tea & Fig

    • Quail Hollow Club – Vanilla Grapefruit

    • The Historic Dunhill Hotel – Africaine

    • Reid’s Fine Foods Grocery on Selwyn – Lemon Bar

    • Standard Pacific model homes – Hot Apple Pie or Sugar Cookie

    • Massage Envy Northlake – White Tea & Fig

    • At Carolina Place Mall: Flip Flop Shops – Flip Flop Shop Scent

    At SouthPark mall:

    • Juicy Couture – custom scent Viva Le Fleur

    • Solstice Sunglasses – Tropical Coconut

    • Rockport – Fresh Outdoors

    Source: ScentAir



When Democratic National Convention visitors arrive at Charlotte hotels and retail shops next month, there might be something in the air to help make these places feel a little more inviting.

Convention officials checking into the Westin uptown will encounter the smell of white tea in the hotel lobby. Shoppers strolling into Solstice Sunglasses at SouthPark mall may feel they’re on vacation because of the tropical coconut aroma there.

And members of the Texas and Montana delegations, staying at sprawling Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, might feel they’re in the great outdoors thanks to a Redwood Forest fragrance.

Behind all these sensory treats is Charlotte-based ScentAir, one of the three largest companies that specialize in scent marketing. That subtle art form of appealing to people’s subconscious through fragrance will play a part in some DNC experiences.

ScentAir fragrance systems will help set the mood at some of the delegate parties, according to the company, where workers test fragrances and dream up new scents at the headquarters not far from Carowinds.

Its custom scents also are a standard at many hotels housing convention guests – in both Charlotte and Tampa, Fla., the site of the Republican National Convention at the end of August. Besides the Westin’s signature white tea fragrance, scents include the crisp lemon, green florals, white tea and exotic spices that make up Holiday Inn’s distinct blend.

It’s all about leaving enduring impressions that help make customers feel more relaxed and welcome, according to Michael O’Day, ScentAir chief operating officer. “We’re really about enhancing the experience.”

Using fragrances to help set the mood for customers is a relatively new industry that started in the 1970s, according to Jennifer Dublino, chief operating officer at Scent Marketing Institute, a trade group and leading authority on sensory marketing.

Las Vegas casinos were among the early adopters, using coconut spice and other scents to deal with the mustiness and cigarette smoke that lingered in the windowless buildings. They discovered that people enjoyed the atmosphere and stayed longer, boosting casino revenues.

Today, about 80 percent of hotel chains use scent marketing in some way, Dublino said. More retailers are picking up on it, too, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Juicy Couture and others.

Most ScentAir clients use the canister-like ScentWave System, which releases fragrant oil at set times. Other ScentAir technology, installed in HVAC systems, covers entire hotels and stores. Pricing for services begins at about $100 monthly.

Industry innovations include the scented highway billboard, which ScentAir and a marketing company tried in 2010 to promote grilled steak from the base of a sign along N.C. 150 in Mooresville.

Another company created a bus shelter in the UK that spelled of baked potatoes, courtesy of a heater. Even the London Olympics featured the “Scent of Victory” at the opening ceremony, according to Dublino – a mix of rosemary, lavender, peppermint and wheat.

ScentAir started in 1994 in Florida, when the company’s founder came up with scents for rides at Walt Disney World. Ten years later, the company moved to Charlotte. Today, it has more than 200 employees – about 100 in worldwide locations, and 100 at its headquarters in southwest Charlotte. The privately held company, which has more than 20,000 clients and 50,000 placements worldwide, doesn’t discuss revenues.

ScentAir’s 30,000-square-foot headquarters is divided into offices and cubicles, a manufacturing floor with assembly line workers compiling the systems, and lab areas with fragrance experts testing new scents. Synthetics or natural materials, such as wood, grass, teas, flowers and spices, go into making fragrances. Of the company’s 2,000 catalogued scents, about 400 are kept on-site all the time.

Also inside is a brightly painted VW bus decked out with scent chambers, which ScentAir brings to trade shows. Pick a scent from the touch screen window to smell fragrances. (“Wacky Weed” has been a hit at expos.)

Having a ScentAir presence at parties, hotels, bars and spas around town is one thing. But ScentAir would have loved having a unifying fragrance around town during convention week. The company made a pitch to DNC officials to create a signature scent to use at major events.

Exactly what fragrance would have been left up to brainstorming, according to Edward Burke, director of marketing.

“You could go with the all-American, simple but warm and inviting,” like hot apple pie, Burke said. Or patriotic themes, using the Declaration of Independence – and the smell of the parchment and ink used for that – as inspiration.

Convention officials didn’t take ScentAir up on the offer.

But Dublino, with the scent institute, thinks they should have.

“Scent would have been a great way to ... promote that sense of urgency and purpose,” she said. “That’s what the convention is based on; that’s why they do it.”

Smith: 704-358-5087 On Twitter: @CelesteSmithObs
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