When perfume warehouse employee Richard Jowle was looking for a business idea, he found inspiration under his nose. He and his wife Katie set up Fragrance Direct in 1993, using her marketing know-how. It offers designer fragrances direct from warehouse to customer. 'We drive to businesses and set up stalls in coffee rooms or canteens,' says Katie. 'Clients include the banks, building societies, BT - anywhere where there's a lot of staff.'
The Jowles were keen to look into other sales opportunities besides mail order. 'We have a price and convenience appeal, and it occurred to us that so does the internet,' says Katie. They set up www.fragrancedirect.co.uk in autumn 1999 and by Christmas the orders were pouring in. Each product lists the price against its RRP, launch date and a description of the aroma. Some products, which are testers or without packaging, are half the usual price.
In 2001, sales over the site were double what they had been the year before, and it now generates a third of Fragrance Direct's business. In December, the site received 45,000 visitors. Having originally operated from their home in Macclesfield, the Jowles have since moved to new premises and employ seven staff.
But there is an obvious limitation. 'You can't smell anything online, which is unfortunate,' admits Katie, 'so we are developing a service whereby we can recommend something similar to the customer's usual choice.' It's not to be sniffed at.