Dollars from Scents

Tracy Pepe of Nose Knows Design

Tracy Pepe of Nose Knows Design

A classic concept in process excellence is Y = f(x) where some output, outcome or result (Y) is a function or result of one or more inputs or factors (the Xs). Most people think of process in terms of making widgets where the output is some physical object and the inputs are metal or plastic.

But a process, such as checking into a hotel or shopping for clothes, has Critical to Performance (CTP) elements beyond the physical. For example lighting or ambient sound are often important considerations in the satisfaction of the customer. Scents are also a powerful though often overlooked factor. Tracy Pepe, for example, is am example of a process-behavioral scientist/engineer who studies specific applications, such as hotel or retail spaces, and then designs scents that elicit the desired behaviour.

Her company, Nose Knows Design, is located in Brampton Ontario. An example of a client application is a scent she designed for Samsung’s retail outlets. The company website ( describes the assignment:

Samsung looked to Pepe, to create the unique Olfactive Brand, Samsung Smart Scent. Focusing on Generation Y’s love of shopping, Pepe designed the Samsung Smart Scent to facilitate an atmosphere of play and innovation that would spark interest and enthusiasm in the store.

Pepe comments: “This blend is layered with elements of Pink Metal, combined with a happy accord centered on chocolate. The accord features soothing woody notes that help balances the space. An absolute pleasure to create for this space!”

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Another project was for the Trump Hotel in Toronto. Here is a video describing the design and implementation process:

An article by Matthew Hague on Pepe’s work writes:

The lobby of Toronto’s Trump Hotel has all of the elements of a ritzy, five-star lodging. The check-in desk is wrapped in Macassar ebony. The floor is inlaid with onyx and the drapes are velvet. The most luxurious design detail, however, isn’t visible or even that discernible. Subtle wafts of champagne and caviar drift through the foyer, giving the place an air of exclusivity, and providing an olfactory signal to the c-suite clientele that they’ve arrived – literally and figuratively.
Tracy Pepe, the founder of Nose Knows Design – a Brampton, Ont.-based olfactive-branding studio – custom-crafted the aroma. She’s one of a handful of North American scent designers who works with architects and interior designers to ensure that the smell of a space is as pleasing as the decor. Because our sense of smell has a strong impact on both our physical and psychological perceptions, her work has a powerful effect on our experience of the environment – improving not only the aroma, but also enhancing the colours, sounds and the overall emotional response.
That impact is likely why the luxury is appearing more and more. According to a recent New York Times article, the Delos, a high-end Manhattan condo, perfumes the apartments of its residents, including Deepak Chopra and Leonardo DiCaprio, with custom fragrances. And many fashion designers scent their runway shows to enhance the look of the clothes (Dawn and Samantha Goldworm, who run New York scent studio 12.29, have developed olfactory signatures for Zac Posen, Rodarte and Jason Wu).
When done well, the work of someone such as Pepe aims to make people linger longer, return more often and spend more money. She is currently working on a pilot project with Wal-Mart, with initial findings showing a 33-per-cent bump in sales in targeted scented space.
According to Dr. Sarah J.S. Wilner, an assistant professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University, a consumer’s reaction to smell – in the Wal-Mart case, a smoky aroma near barbecue products – might trigger some specific cultural need.
“There’s a famous British anthropologist named Daniel Miller who wrote an essay in 1998 titled Making Love in Supermarkets,” Wilner explains, “which, very basically, was about how grocery shopping can be, fundamentally, an act of expression of care and attention. So in the Wal-Mart instance, the smell might remind a wife of how much her husband likes to have friends over for a barbecue.”
According to Pepe, the olfactive-branding industry (which she currently estimates to be worth $500-million a year, a tiny fraction of the multibillion-dollar perfume business) is set to boom over the next two years.
That’s “because we’re at a tipping point,” she says. “We, as a society, are kind of dead, visually. We’re on our phones, we are constantly looking at screens. So there’s this hole. And what scent does is that it propels you back in time so you remember what it felt like. If you’re walking in a mall, for example, and you smell crayons, you’re going right to that emotional connection of peeling the paper off. And all of a sudden there’s a human aspect to it.”
Pepe spends time with the hotel’s management, getting a detailed breakdown of the branding vision as well as the targeted demographics. Pepe would, for example, create a vastly different scent profile for a kid-centric space than for a place geared toward travelling business executives. (Kids, she has learned through decades of experience, like sweeter, simpler smells such as chocolate and Fun Dip; adults prefer things like leather and whisky.)
Then, she studies the HVAC system, as the duct work is the primary method of infusing the aroma, using a cold-air diffusion system that, unlike burning incense, distributes the smell without compromising its integrity with heat. The distribution system is something Pepe will keep a close eye on well after the actual scent is perfected, as she often has to make adjustments based on things beyond her control – a giant Christmas tree in the lobby, for example, or humid, smoggy summer air wafting through the entrance.

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