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Merchants of fragrance

  • Published at 03:41 pm October 25th, 2018
WT_Oct 25, 2018
Photo: Nabil Rahman

A growing market for high-quality perfume gives rise to new businesses and communities

Francis Kurkdjian, the renowned perfumer who created one of the world’s best selling scents for Jean Paul Gaultier, said, “Perfume is the art that makes memory speak.” There has been a rise in the trade of foreign cosmetics in the local, Bangladeshi markets and one of the most sought-after categories is fragrance. There is a niche market for luxury perfumes and the demand for higher quality foreign perfume has propelled companies to specifically target the group of consumers that look for original products from renowned brands.

As a result, the perfume market is expanding rapidly and the market size is believed to be worth over Tk120 crore by the stakeholders. All the superstores and cosmetics stores in general are paying more attention to their perfume section and increasing their collection of branded perfumes. The customer base for these foreign and exotic perfume products is not only from the affluent class but includes a wide variety of people from very young students and entrepreneurs to bankers, lawyers and businessmen.

Foreign perfumes are costly, and until recently, there haven’t been many physical shops dedicated to selling original branded products. But with the increasing popularity, companies are finding interest in investing in this business. 

Brick-and-mortar perfume shops are growing

Al Haramain Perfumes Pvt Ltd is currently the only franchise perfume shop in the country. Al Haramain, which has a presence in over 60 countries, opened up its showroom in Bangladesh a few years ago and quickly expanded to four showrooms within Dhaka city. The brand is the brainchild of Mohammed Mahtabur Rahman (Nasir), a Bangladeshi expat hailing from Sylhet, who expanded his family’s perfume business from Makkah to UAE during the early 80s and later made Al Haramain one of the biggest names in the global perfume industry. The company has grown to produce a wide range of top quality fragrance products which the fragrance lovers from Bangladesh can easily find.

While Al Haramain provides the customers with the opportunity of buying original products from the brand’s own retail establishments, other stores like Perfume World have built their businesses on imported perfumes. Perfume World started as a physical store in 2009 and continues to sell original products from some of the biggest names in the world. A popular destination for perfume lovers, the company currently has six retail outlets in different parts of Dhaka. It also opened up two branches in Chattogram and one in Sylhet.

Other stores include the likes of Bodyline and Starlin Enterprise. Bodyline’s store in Dhaka’s Banani offers a good collection of designer fragrances and a selection of perfume gift sets. Starlin Enterprise is actually one of the earlier perfume business entities in the country and started back in 1987. Starlin's store, currently located in Gulshan, has a huge collection of designer and some niche perfumes. Its Facebook page features reviews and regular product updates.

Online sellers getting the smell of success

Despite the growth of retail establishments, the business of foreign perfume is predominantly operating through the internet in Bangladesh. Most perfume lovers prefer to buy from online platforms rather than from physical stores. The reason for this is that there are only a handful of verified shops, with the majority of the perfumes sold in the Bangladeshi market being counterfeits. More importantly, online shops have managed to gain trust with a growing online-friendly customer base by bringing original products and offering competitive prices.

Online sellers like Perfumance, Zaki’s Perfume Fountain and Perfume Factory BD are attracting new customers and providing specialized products. Perfumance, founded in 2014, exclusively sells non-alcoholic perfume oil. Zaki’s Perfume Fountain and Perfume Factory BD also carry non-alcoholic attar and perfumes. Perfumance has a physical store as well in Dhaka’s Khilgaon area. 

BPIB (Buyperfumeinbangladesh.com) is one of the first online perfume sellers in Bangladesh, offering a varied collection of branded perfumes. It sells full bottles as well as decants (small portions such as 5ml or 10ml in spray bottles). “We sell decants to help customers make an informed decision about buying full bottles so that they will potentially buy from us in the future,” said Dip Ahmed, an executive of BPIB. The store also sells perfume atomizers on its website (atomizers are decant bottles with utility for transferring from large bottles). The prices range from Tk50-450. 

BPIB started selling perfumes since last year and imports from USA, UK and UAE. “We have few VIP customers who will buy anything between five to seven perfumes every month. And there are customers that buy two to three perfumes every month and we give them discounts,” Ahmed added, referring to purchase of full bottles which can range anywhere between Tk3 thousand to Tk25 thousand a bottle.

Perfume Bangladesh (perfume-bd.com) is another website that has gained popularity with an internet-savvy consumer base. With over 60 thousand followers on its Facebook page, it is one of the largest online perfume sellers in Bangladesh.

Fragrancebd.com frequently offers exclusive deals on the website and features an ‘on sale’ section. Customers can see a neat ‘overview’ of the products and the website has cash on delivery service available across the country. 

Perfumes are of course available on the mainstream e-commerce sites as well. Online retail marketplace such as Banglashoppers.com, Bagdoom.com, Daraz.com and Pickaboo.com have perfume sections. But these sites invariably have higher prices and relatively smaller collections compared to the specialized online perfume shops. 

Some companies do not have an independent website but operate through Facebook. One such seller is USB (UK Shopping from BD). This shop has a wide collection of both designers and niche perfumes with very affordable options. USB also ship and deliver wanted products from the UK to the customer’s home in Bangladesh. From the very budget friendly CK One to the most niche line of Tom Ford can be ordered and purchased through this Facebook based store. It also specializes in bringing rare and discontinued perfumes, giving customers one more reason for choosing its service over others.

Disciples of the decant

Containing only 24ml per-bottle, a six-bottle set of ‘Empress of Perfume’ by Al Haramain costs just over Tk5.27 lakh. Even though that is the most expensive product carried by the brand, lesser priced bottles by famous brands are still costly for most people. Decants provides the interesting opportunity of trying out these expensive perfumes for much lower prices. 

This is why the business of decants (small amount of perfume in little spray bottles) has been gaining traction. This business operates on a monthly subscription basis in many foreign countries, but in Bangladesh, there is no need for such subscription fee. A number of companies through Facebook pages now provide an affordable online sampling service that enables customers to buy samples. These samples come in 2.5, 5, 10 and 20ml sample spray bottles. 

Fahad Azad started ShugondhiWala (a decant selling company) earlier this year with a vision of making it an established business. “I believe the market of perfume users is quite big in Bangladesh because almost everyone uses some form of perfume. We started our business to help them try what they like, as affording a full bottle is difficult,” he said. 

Azad says that people can buy decant bottles for similar prices as typical body sprays and get a far better quality product. “We are making a serious buzz by participating in fairs that are organized for online pages to showcase their products. When people see the testers that we are using are original branded bottled perfumes, they love it”, Azad said.  ShugondhiWala plans to launch its website soon.

Other Facebook pages that are running decant shops include Fragrance Club, Perfume Point Bangladesh, Decant Perfume Bangladesh, GoodFellas and Fragrances Bangladesh, among others.  

The fragrance community

Around 2016-2017 a number of Facebook groups were created to connect the fragrance lovers of Bangladesh. On these group pages, members share what perfume they are wearing, if they bought something new and fragrance reviews. The groups are also a place for selling and exchanging. Some of the bigger groups include Fragrance Addicts Bangladesh and Perfume Point Bangladesh. These two ‘closed’ groups consist of 4000 and 7000 members respectively. The members arrange meet-up sessions every 6 months or so. 

“I got into perfumes when I was only nine years old and seeing my Grandfather, started loving perfumes. According to my Grandfather there were shops such as Kodom Rasul Store and Badsha Store back in the 70s from where people could buy perfumes and aftershave,” said Nabil M Rahman, who is one of the biggest collectors of designer and niche fragrances in Bangladesh and, also one of the moderators of the group Fragrance Addicts Bangladesh. 

Before the online market was big Rahman used to used to save pocket money to buy perfumes from super shops like Almas, Priyo and Amirs back in 2007-2008. But now he doesn’t have to rely on them.

Reviewers

With the proliferation of fragrance products, good quality reviewers are also emerging from Bangladesh. Joy Amin, a Bangladeshi YouTuber, has achieved international recognition for his perfume reviews. His channel has a whopping 850 videos and he has 17 thousand subscribers from all around the world. His videos cover topics such as ‘Top 15 Men’s Fragrances for Bangladesh’, ‘Top 10 Affordable Summer Fragrances’, etc.  Other YouTube channels include Ricoh Faiajur, Nabeel Ahsan (Youtube- Scented Gentlemen), Mehedi Hasan and Buy Perfume in Bangladesh. “I started doing reviews for the love of fragrance and to pursue my hobby of collecting fragrances,” said Faiajur. He said people of Bangladesh are not very encouraging when it comes to fragrance reviews. “People do not appreciate it very much and there is an ego war going on about who knows more, but in reality, we are all learning from YouTube ourselves,” Faiajur said.