I now believe it is part of my destiny to work in and around start-up businesses, in whatever format that may be. I have always been attracted to situations with lots of upward potential, and undertaking efforts that show real results in a reasonable timeframe. Over the last six weeks or so, I have had the opportunity to get to know a local entrepreneur and small business owner, Rob Akins, by managing the social media for his boutique, Uncommon Finds in Downtown Tampa.
As a conscientious consumer and style lover, I wouldn’t have been as excited about Rob’s store if he wasn’t carrying legitimately high quality brands. But, rather quickly, anyone who meets Rob understands that he is deeply rooted in the niche, specialized, and non-commercial realm of personal fragrance.
He and I speak the same language—of Byredo and Frederic Malle, of Le Labo and Grasse, France (where many modern fragrances start), and the perfume counter at Barney’s stores across the U.S. We are both well-acquainted wth Carlton at Neiman Marcus, who manages the Tom Ford concession. And Rob has excelled at finding unique, interesting lines to carry in his own store: one from Detroit created by a former mechanic (Kerosene), by gays from Southern California (YeYe), and eccentric Europeans like Alessandro Gualtieri (Nasomatto). All scents that are priced not by marketing budgets, but by the quality of their ingredients.
Coming fresh off an MBA degree, observing his struggles and successes as a entrepreneur are even more fascinating than I would have imagined.
The current and original Uncommon Finds location in Downtown Tampa, across from county government and the county courthouse, is far from a traditional retail spot, and far from the clusters of other high-end boutiques but near Rob’s own home. Thus, it gets few visits from passers-by, but is a destination boutique for those who have a curiosity or specific purchase objective.
However, he is in talks to potentially find a more suitable location with higher foot traffic. To be announced…
With prices ranging from $34 for a candle from The Hype Noses to $195 for 50ml of “juice” from Agonist Parfums, one might guess he has trouble moving the pricier units, but quite the contrary. His business has improved steadily, with a higher average transaction than in the past. From what I know, arranging point-of-sale, payment, and accounting is relatively easy now with solutions like Clover, Shopify, etc.
The most significant challenge for a fledgling brand is marketing and consumer awareness, which is where I come in. The Uncommon Finds website is already search engine optimized, well-designed, and appropriately simple in my opinion. It’s the conversation and storytelling, so essential in this sort of market, that requires focus, inspiration, and consistency.
Fundamentally, Rob has to convey his passion and knowledge. In 2016 he traveled to Europe where he visited Grasse and blended his unique creation at Molinard, one of France’s oldest parfumeries. Everywhere he goes, he discovers new brands. And, occasionally, he is approached directly to carry a line.
He has a massive personal collection, of course.
Across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the idea is to share imagery, multimedia, and content directly from brands’ collateral, with informal, impromptu, and imperfect posts from him and I as conduits of the brands, to drive traffic in the store and pique interest.
On the other hand, striking the proper balance between pushy and present is a new line to walk for me, since my previous social media experience has been with government entities, public events, and interest groups, not a real business.
As a consumer/recipient/target, I am so totally past overloaded with daily e-mails, targeted ads, and suggestions I should buy. There isn’t enough money in the world to buy everything that is pitched to me digitally, and so my own style of push social media is more about interesting, entertaining tidbits, rather than hard sell tactics.
It is exciting to handle Uncommon Finds’ social accounts, learning as I go, because I too am passionate both about individuality, local commerce, and high quality fragrance. From an early age I resented that widely-available eau de toilettes sold in malls and chain stores grew faint after only a few hours from application. There was a time when I enjoyed L’Eau d’Issey, but it was so damn weak in terms of longevity.
It may not matter to some, but most mainstream, widely-distributed fragrances are produced by a handful of major umbrella companies like Coty and Estee Lauder, who collect a hefty profit from every sale; many fragrances plus their packaging cost only a few dollars to produce.
Niche fragrances are rising in popularity, however, so brands like Jo Malone, Frederic Malle, and Le Labo have been purchased by these large firms to be expanded and saturated globally (pardon the pun), for better or worse.
In Tampa, the consumers have options like Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Neiman Marcus, and Sephora, but Rob is the exclusive local stockist for all of his lines, and they are obscure somewhat on purpose.
So which one do I wear? I received Nasomatto Black Afgano as a gift and have found it is best suited for a cool, wintry evening. Like velvet and a whiskey, it warms your body. I don’t use it much in Tampa, but in Milan I did frequently.
I’m looking forward to helping Uncommon Finds reach new markets and watching it evolve from what it started as to what it may become. How exciting!