Even the most optimistic among us expect to face challenges along the road to success, especially in the world of fine fragrance. Kitzrow had her concerns, but she also had a belief in what she was creating that carried her through to the point where she is poised to launch her product. “I’ve been so positive about this from the beginning, I thought it would work. As an entrepreneur, you know how to roll with it and how to adapt,” Kitzrow said. “I just felt in my gut I was going to find the right partner and get this thing on the counter.”
That partner turned out to be Von Maur, a 23-location department store chain operating in eight Midwestern states. Growing from a 20 x 50-foot storefront in Davenport, Iowa, more than 130 years ago, the company remains under the leadership of family members Charles R. and Richard B. von Maur, who are company co-chairmen, and James D. von Maur, president.
Von Maur was not the first department store Kitzrow approached to help market Summersent, but she recalls the good feeling she had about the company from the moment she first walked through the door of one of its Chicago area stores. It was a boho-dressed mannequin next to a display of fancy hats in a round glass display counter—both hip and very grounded—that said to her “They have the elegance.”
Kitzrow felt the company exhibited a quality that is very true to women. And as her fragrance product is based on respect for women, she said she felt very much at home with Von Maur. “They are very customer-oriented,” said Kitzrow. “It has been a great part of the strategy to finally end up with a really good retail partner.”
For Von Maur, the decision to carry Summersent was all about uniqueness. “We really loved her story, and it was something just for Von Maur,” said Lynn Jarrett, men’s and women’s fragrance buyer. Kitzrow has created visual elements to support the launch.
Response has been good from Von Maur’s fragrance selling specialists, too. “We have had super-positive feedback,” said Jarrett. “They just fell in love with the fragrance, and they loved the packaging, too.”
She launches at Von Maur this month with a .33 oz parfum and a 2 oz eau de parfum. Two line extensions, a body cream and a body lotion, already are created and may be added this fall. The launch will take place at a “trend event” for store customers at the Von Maur location in Louisville, Kentucky, and the product will be placed in more stores in the chain throughout April and May.
A Fragrance is Born
The road from bloom to bottle has been an interesting journey. The inspiration for Summersent was a flower Kitzrow heard about from a friend and which she made a special trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden to smell. She won’t divulge the name of the flower that was the inspiration for the fragrance but she will say that its scent is “haunting, magic.”
“I thought it would be so interestingthat it was so familiar,” she said. “It gets in your head and you just say ‘Wow!’ I had heard about it and I wanted to seek it out. It is a very old plant.”
The idea for the fragrance came soon after she smelled the flower. For Kiztrow, the branding expert, the name of the fragrance came first. The actual fragrance was in her hand about nine months later.
A short time after she smelled the flower in Chicago, she went to a garden center in New Jersey and bought three plants that she sent home with her perfumer, setting in motion a summer-long treasure hunt for the exact variety of the plant that yielded the memorable scent. The perfumer tended the plants and, when they bloomed, extracted the fragrance. The first variety of the plant she delivered to the perfumer was not the one that remained so strong in her memory. More plants, more blooms followed and the ‘winning’ sample was in her hands by the end of July.
A few lines from Kitzrow’s marketing plan sum up her thinking on the current trend in designer fragrance and hint at the thinking behind Summersent. Too often, a designer will launch a fragrance in his or her own image, not in the image of the woman who will wear it. She is expected to celebrate the designer’s image as her claim to individuality. Thus the search goes on as she seeks her signature scent.
Here is the description of the finished fragrance: It is a luscious floral fragrance based on the unique scent of Summersent in bloom. After capturing this unique living flower accord, heartnotes of Italian jasmine, Moroccan orange blossom, cassis flower and genet were added to enrich the bouquet. A hint of mandarin provides a sparkling top note, while a fresh petal greenness enhances the magical quality of the scent. A blend of white musks interwoven with a honey nectar accord provide a haunting drydown.
Dedicated to Women
A lot of what is seen in our culture, said Kitzrow, is based on sex, and while she points out that there is nothing wrong with sex and sensuality, she did feel a strong motivation to “get this brand out in front of the public as something that doesn’t attach itself to that.”
Her marketing plan indicates her thoughts on the way Summersent should be presented to consumers. A lifting up of mind and spirit is long overdue in our consumer culture. Images of women need to be believable … womenfull of hope, promise, intelligence and good taste.
Summersent is dedicated to women, Kitzrow said, and is not reliant on celebrity. The model she selected to appear in her marketing materials is not a model at all. She is a mom with three little girls and Kitzrow said she is believable; she is someone another woman would want to spend time with.
Kitzrow spent time talking with a number of people associated with the fragrance industry as she worked to get Summersent to market, one of whom told her she could put the mystique back in fragrance with her perfume and her plan. She also spoke with Rochelle Bloom, president of The Fragrance Foundation. “Rochelle told me it’s a rough business,” said Kitzrow.
“I warned Marjorie, as I do many people, that it is very difficult, as an individual, to develop and market a fragrance,” said Bloom. “It is costly and hard to find someone to sell it.”
Bloom said many people would have been overwhelmed, but Kitzrow was determined and that is really what it takes to make it happen. “Once I get my mind on something, I’m very strong-willed—patient and persevering,” said Kitzrow.
“She was not deterred by anyone or anything. She also had the advantage of already knowing what bottle she wanted and who could manufacture it,” said Bloom, so she had done her homework and made some crucial decisions in advance.”
The inspiration for the primary packaging is a beautifully decorated and jeweled bottle Kitzrow purchased four years ago, before Summersent was even the seed of an idea. The custom-painted, filigree-clad and crystal-domed parfum bottle is hand crafted in Toronto. Custom-designed boxes were produced in Chicago. Her promotional plan includes a number of gift-with-purchase options that continue the heirloom presence of the parfum. Sampling is planned in pillow boxes matching the fragrance packaging, with 2 oz spray samples inside.
Since Von Maur doesn’t advertise, and Summersent is a niche brand, one of the strong early promotional efforts will be a public relations campaign. Her strategy has been to create excitement and desire among the three C’s: corporate, counter and consumer, and let word-of-mouth sales build on that.
Along with the industry experts she called on during the development process, she also got a lot of inspiration from friends and family. “My sister and her husband and kids have been very supportive,” said Kitzrow.
Born on a farm in Hoople, North Dakota, Kitzrow remembers her childhood as “a time of life when everything was so close to the earth. It’s a wonderful place to be from.” The Midgarden family farm was established in 1879, and that is one reason Kitzrow is so excited to be working with Von Maur—the store dates back to 1872 and she likes that connection.
“I learned how to work young and it just stuck. There was a spirit of entrepreneurship. It was kind of free but you realized there is a price to all that freedom.”
Kitzrow is counting on all that strong Midwestern synergy blossoming into a great Midwestern success story.