Commercial Fragrancing and Deodorizing by Fresh Aire


West Linn Business Sells the Sweet Scent of Success

Ed and Brenda Winkler's company provides air fresheners for any office to create a unique atmosphere
By JULIA O'MALLEY
SPECIAL TO THE OREGONIAN

Air freshener scents such as honeysuckle, apple jack and cinnamon, once relegated to restrooms, are now wafting through hotels, bank lobbies and apartment buildings throughout the Portland metropolitan area.

Ed Winkler and his wife, Brenda, started West Linn-based Fresh Aire Air Fresheners in their home as a side business in 1995. This year, Fresh Aire, which installs and services air freshener machines, is projected to garner nearly $500,000 in sales, and the company recently expanded into Utah.

"Just about every industry is represented in our customer base," Winkler says, offering a Piña Colada-scented card in his West Linn garage where he stores supplies. "It's about first impressions. When a customer walks into a business, there's great furniture, people are dressed nice, maybe there's even some music being piped in. (A fragrance) helps add to a great impression."

The air fresheners come in a rectangular box about the size of a small milk carton. Inside, wicks soak up liquid scent from a small cup, and a battery-operated fan circulates the fragrance. Of Fresh Aire's 30 scents, the most popular are pineapple, mulberry and mango.

The company's monthly service costs about $8 per machine on average. Winkler calculates that he installs about 95 percent of his machines in business areas other than restrooms. He usually installs about four per business.

It's one of those businesses where people scratch their heads and say, ‘I could have thought of that,'" Winkler says.

Sales of fragrance products in the United States have grown steadily in recent years. Retail sales totaled $2.94 billion in 2003, an increase of about 6 percent over 2001 sales of $2.77 billion, according to the most recent figures from market research publisher Packaged Facts, a division of market Research.com.

That growth has helped Winkler's company. "A lot of businesses were purchasing the Glade Plug-In," Winkler says, "but they were finding they are not even close to as effective as what we are doing, and what we offer costs only a little bit more.         

Fresh Aire is the biggest Oregon-based air-freshener company, Winkler says, and he works with four other companies that sell similar air fresheners around the state. He orders all their products for them, to cut shipping costs. "My opinion is that there's enough business in the area for everyone," he says.         

Winkler, a major with the Oregon National Guard, says he is less friendly with his biggest competitor, the Washington-based janitorial supply company Pacific Breeze Products. While Winkler was deployed in Iraq and Kuwait a year ago, he lost some customers to Pacific Breeze. His biggest challenge has been winning them back.        
 

His main sales strategy has been to keep his staff consistent. The relationships the service people have built with clients paid off, he said, helping Fresh Aire earn back business. Winkler says he now has as many clients as before his deployment.         

I would ask (a prospective customer), ‘How many different service people have you seen this year (servicing a competitor's machines)?" Winkler says. "My customers like seeing the same vendors."         

Winkler came up with the idea for his business while working with his father-in-law's janitorial business. His father-in-law was providing the air fresheners in restrooms and Winkler wondered whether there would be a market for them in other rooms.         

He and his wife started the business to supplement their income, but it's now a full-time job, with 2,000 clients in Oregon and Utah.         
For the past four years, the lobby at Edward Jones, an investment securities firm in West Linn, has been scented with honeysuckle.         

"Everybody who walks in the door says it smells so good," says Al Crooks, an investment representative. "It's nice that it doesn't smell like any other office."
February 27, 2005


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