Image: Yianni Tong
As an artisan and seasoned entrepreneur, Pepe shares her perspective on pitch competitions, re-focusing and the future of her scent-based business.
We caught up with Tracy Pepe, owner and founder of Nose Knows Design, after her venture’s win at the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) Partners in Peel March 2018 Unlock Your Big Idea Pitch Competition (UYBI). Pepe won $10,000 in the Creative Industry Startup category for The Scented L’air, a Brampton-based scent bar studio.
EDGE: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Tracy Pepe: I own a company called Nose Knows Design that I started 26 years ago, primarily as a consultant in commercial industries. I teach hotels, condos, architects and designers how to use scent within a space. I’ve worked with corporations and authored many research reports, but in June 2018 I decided to take a completely different approach.
We opened a studio in downtown Brampton called the Scented L’air to reach the day-to-day consumer. It’s unique because it’s the first scent bar in Canada.
E: What interested you in applying for Unlock Your Big Idea?
TP: A few things. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and have done many things, but I had an idea and wanted to do it right this time.
One of the things I needed was capital, so I had to have a game plan where I could reinvest it into my business. At the time I did not have the ability to do this on my own, so I began looking into grants and other supports. I also enrolled in a program at the Brampton Entrepreneur Centre and took some classes to strengthen my skills in areas where I needed improvement.
When I found the UYBI pitch competition, I was pretty savvy with pitches, but this event pushed me to get everything in writing and tightened up to a point where I could execute on it.
E: How did you feel about winning in a creative category?
TP: I’m an artisan by trade because I’m a perfumer; I know how to create stuff. What’s interesting is the stereotype that artisans are not very savvy in business. But I proved everyone wrong.
My whole platform was this: Technology is great, I love it, and everyone is investing into technology. However, my work cannot be downloaded. I think we have to step back and realize that life is balanced between technology as well as other things. And I find my studio and business tapping into that, because people are almost overwhelmed with technology.
I find a lot of the grants and government incentives focus on tech, which is wonderful. But we’re missing the life component and creative industries, so this was an exceptional opportunity.
E: What impacts do these events have on entrepreneurs?
TP: The process is helpful in getting the noise out of your head and focusing. For me, this is challenging. I’ve been around for a long time, but it still applies to me and requires practice. So, signing up and participating in the prep work with EDGE was pivotal.
People often count themselves out and rob themselves of the process of doing the work because they’re so focused on the $10,000, for example. But the money is the bonus.
I had a lot of personal challenges at the time that were making things difficult but fighting through it to finish that presentation and practice was liberating. The pitch competition was helpful to get me back into that process.
The other thing is that Sheridan and EDGE embody the community concept. Working with like-minded individuals who understand what you’re trying to accomplish and are willing to say, “that’s a good idea but have you thought of doing it this way?” makes a difference.
E: Where did this take you and your venture? What’s next?
TP: The capital injection was critical to opening the doors of The Scented L’air. We did leasehold improvements and got the store up and running – we’ve been operational for six months with sales increasing every month at the store level. I have also hired a part-time person and myself full time!
Additionally, we’ve been learning about how to connect with our audience and deliver the promised experience. We’re conducting more seminars and educational events as people are starting to know us. We have about an 87 percent customer return rate, which is wonderful because we’re seeing people who understand what we do.
Community and partnerships are another focus. I’m working with Sheridan’s Brampton campus as well as a local high school to put together a co-op program with their chemistry department to bring in students next summer. I’m excited because we’re almost becoming a destination of learning and growth.
Finally, I’ve presented to some investors and they are interested in expanding my concept to kiosks in airports. We’re going to take our scent bar idea and hopefully open the first scent bar at Pearson in 2019.
So, it’s grown. This experience has shown us where are our opportunities are and we are excited for what’s coming next.
Tracy Pepe has also been working to debunk some of the myths and negative perceptions of the fragrance industry and has recently been featured in the Globe and Mail.
Learn more about The Scented L’air.