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Entrepreneur pries open doors to launch designer fragrance Business Scents

April 07, 1995|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

"I thought that my money wouldn't go very far in New York. And I had traveled to the Caribbean many times," she says. "Two things I noticed that women buy a lot of in the Caribbean: jewelry and fragrances."

Ms. Jerry lived in the Bahamas from 1985 until 1991. TIV has been selling well to tourists in Nassau, Ms. Jerry says. "We are expanding to St. Thomas now," she says.

Though TIV had a good track record in the Bahamas, Ms. Jerry still found it difficult to get the products sold in this country.

"Although I had been in business since 1981, no bank would approve a loan," she says.

In 1994, she and her husband, Warren Bush, moved to the Washington suburbs. Mr. Bush, a financial and business consultant, decided to approach the District of Columbia for an economic development loan.

The plan comes together

"They were really excited about it," Ms. Jerry says. "We got approval within 30 days."

The District's Office of Economic Development provided about $200,000 in loans. The Neighborhood Economic Development Finance Corp. also kicked in financing, including a line of credit.

Even before they had lined up the financing, Ms. Jerry and her husband were looking for a major store to sell TIV.

About a year ago, the couple drove to St. Louis to pitch their perfume to executives at May Co., the parent company of Hecht's. Ms. Jerry's contacts in the industry helped open doors there.

"Everyone there felt that this was something we should consider," says Nancy Chistolini, a vice president for fashion and spokeswoman for Hecht's. "We felt that she had a good product. And she was experienced."

But selling one entrepreneur's product was not typical for Hecht's.

"To my knowledge, I don't think we have done this before," Ms. Chistolini says. "Our business is usually with the large companies and that goes for anything."

In November, Hecht's agreed to sell the TIV line. It was exactly one day after Ms. Jerry learned the D.C. government loan was approved.

"We were very excited," Ms. Jerry says. "Then they asked if we could be ready to ship in February! We got cracking and got it out. We were delivering it the day before we launched the product."

But Ms. Jerry knows it isn't enough to win a place for TIV at the crowded cosmetics counter. The perfume has to sell -- and without the benefit of a big television or print ad campaign to pump up sales.

"When major companies launch a new fragrance, they have a million dollars. We don't have a million dollars. I like to say we have to come up with million-dollar ideas," Ms. Jerry says.

Last week, she plugged the perfume herself at the Hecht's in Security Square Mall, where people seemed excited to meet the creator of a fragrance.

"That's her?" asked Dajuan Tucker, 25. "I know it must have been hard to break into this business." After testing the perfume, Ms. Tucker declared the scent was "wonderful."

Another shopper, Naomi Patterson, liked the subtle scent of the fragrance.

"It's a nice, pleasant product. It's not overwhelming like some perfumes. And in the workplace, that has to be a consideration," said Mrs. Patterson, who's in her early 40s.

TIV's prices, which range from $18.50 for the bath and shower gel to $40 for a 2.5-ounce parfum spray, are in line with competitors, says Annette Green, president of the New York-based Fragrance Foundation, a nonprofit educational association. But Ms. Green says it will be extremely difficult for any small company to succeed in the fragrance business.

Positive momentum

So far, TIV seems to be holding its own.

"It's doing better than we planned," says Ms. Chistolini who would not release precise sales figures. "We carry about 70 women's fragrances and TIV is ranking in the top 15."

Ms. Jerry realizes that some of the initial success is due to the newness of the line, But she believes the fragrance is appealing enough to draw repeat customers.

And it is the customers who will ultimately determine whether TIV will be a hit or a miss.

"We know we have momentum now," Ms. Jerry says, "and we want to keep it going."

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