Alfred Lane is a line of long-lasting solid colognes for men, crafted with natural ingredients and exquisite fragrances, designed to be compact, portable and travel-friendly. We’ve been around since November of 2012 but didn’t launch the solid colognes until February of 2013. Neither of us had “formal” training or experience with perfumes or colognes, much less in the solid form. How we got started follows the same pattern of every other entrepreneur: we stumbled our way through the process.
Alfred Lane – The Beginning
My business partner and I met each other in Chicago at a networking event in 2009. He had recently moved from Missouri and I had recently moved back from North Carolina. We hit it off, stayed friends through the years and then decided to start Alfred Lane in 2012.
We wanted to start a business that offered a physical product. Since we both come from digital marketing and design backgrounds, we were used to sitting in front of computers all day long. We wanted to create something with our hands so we researched the men’s grooming market and saw opportunities for a few products.
Market Opportunities: If The Bottle Breaks, Don’t Keep Bringing Another One
While traveling, we started noticing time and time again the hassles of transporting liquid cologne. From bottles breaking or spilling all over our clothes, to TSA officials discarding our expensive colognes for being over the 3 ounce limit, we started noticing a pattern and a problem to be solved.
Around the same time, I went to a boutique shop in Chicago to look around. I noticed a couple of round tins with the label of “solid perfume” at one of their counters. I asked the clerk if they had anything for men. She said that they didn’t have anything like it for men but that the solid perfume could be used as unisex. Apparently they were popular and in demand with women because they only had one scent left. But that scent didn’t appeal to my taste.
My business partner and I started brainstorming about solid perfumes and how there weren’t any solid scents for men. We knew men in general liked smelling good but figured, from our personal experience that they wouldn’t be quick to brag or be excited about purchasing a perfume. With our travel quandaries in mind, we started connecting the dots and identified an opportunity for a men’s solid cologne.
“Now what?” – Prototyping
My business partner and I began researching suppliers, potential names, competitors, stores selling solid cologne. We began playing with names until he stumbled upon New Orleans street names. He liked the name Alfred because it sounded classic and almost timeless. “Road”, “street” and “avenue” didn’t have as nice of a ring. “Alfred Lane”, he told me. I agreed and got working on designing the logo and packaging.
We got back together a couple days later to review some of the logo options I created. Neither of us had made solid cologne or anything like it before. I had been wondering how we were going to figure out ingredients and a formula to make solid cologne. Luckily, my business partner researched ingredients on Google.
We live in an age where we have every resource that we could possibly need to start a successful business, all readily available on the web. After my mind being blown from such simple but powerful concept, we got right to work. We ordered supplies, started messing around with the recipe in our home kitchen stove and played with different consistencies. We had a few design iterations and a lot of trial-and-error runs. But after couple weekends, we got to a functional and viable product. Next we designed a point-of-sale wooden display box to store our solid colognes in. We envisioned them strategically placed next to cash registers.
We began asking feedback from our friends. Most of it was positive but not everyone really understood the idea of a solid cologne. We realized that the product might require some education for potential customers. Men in general liked the scents. Women were more vocal and always had one scent they really liked more than the others. After all the feedback gathering, we had only one question to ask: Will people buy our product?
Market Validation: Sometimes You Have to Pitch Door-to-door
We identified a few stores in our neighborhood that could potentially be interested in the solid colognes. Neither of us were salespeople. Still, we prepared a script, dressed up in our Alfred Lane attire of dark jeans, nice dress shirt with a tie and wing tips or nice sneakers and hit the pavement. First store we visited? The boutique shop where I first stumbled upon the solid perfume.
Since it had been around three months, we figured we try to sell the store owner on carrying the solid cologne next to the solid perfume. We walked in on a slow night with the wooden display box full of solid cologne. We were nervous but confidently presented our product to the store owner and he graciously agreed to carry the solid colognes with one condition: it had to be on a consignment basis.
Since we were a brand new company, we understood why he didn’t want to take such a high risk. Consignment was better than a “no” but it wasn’t a full “yes.” We then dedicated several nights after work, going door to door to all of the local boutiques in our neighborhood. We got plenty of rejections and walked many cold, snowy nights trying to get our solid colognes in stores. After hearing “no” so many times, we decided to go after bigger stores to see what would happen. We went to one of the nicest men’s stores in Chicago and presented our product to the sales staff. We left some samples and one of the sales clerks even bought one right on the spot.
A couple of days later, the store’s head buyer emailed us to place an order. Alfred Lane was now in two stores! As exciting as it was, we still needed to prove that our business and product would truly sell. We started getting into a few more stores and those stores started reordering. Once Chicago was covered, we started contacting stores in the Midwest.
Later on, we developed a list of over 100 of the hottest men’s boutique shops in the country and called and/or emailed every one of them. Many asked for samples and quite a few of those became our retail partners. In a matter of months, we went from one store to almost 25 stores nationwide. We finally had proof that we created a viable product that people wanted to buy.
Social Proof: Getting Press
The following year, we contacted a few high-end, men’s blogs and offered free samples in exchange for a review. Most of them published stellar reviews of the solid colognes and we began to see sales activity pick up on our site. That attracted many more bloggers and other press inquiries reaching out to us to review the solid colognes. Reviews from blogs and customers gave our company the social proof needed to partner with larger online retailers. And those partnerships brought in more media coverage, magazine articles, video reviews, stores inquiring about carrying our solid colognes and,last but not least, more revenue.
Alfred Lane Today
We’ve been very fortunate to see our company go from one store to over 85 stores, in 9 countries, in a little over 2 years. We’ve worked really hard to make a quality product and are seeing the results of our hard work thanks to our amazing retail partners and really awesome customers. We’re hoping our story inspires every aspiring entrepreneur to dream big and execute bigger.