Passing the smell test

Have you ever wanted your business to smell like chocolate chip cookies or an odor that evokes thoughts of sunny skies?

Milwaukee-based scent technology company Prolitec Inc. can help.

Prolitec manufactures air treatment systems that diffuse a custom scent throughout an indoor space. It has attracted some big international clients, like the Great Mosque of Mecca.

For the Great Mosque, Prolitec provides a scent that incorporates pink grapefruit, peach and nectarine. For Potawatomi Bingo Casino, located about a block away in the Menomonee Valley, Prolitec provides a woodlands scent. And for major clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, the company developed an adaptation of its signature fragrance, Fierce.

Ambient scenting is a growing industry, since research has shown customers remain in a place longer if it has a pleasant smell, said Jesus Torres, vice president of finance. Retailers and casinos are very interested in that potential.

The technology can also be used for odor cancellation. Prolitec has installed a pleasant, clean scent at the Milwaukee-area Goodwill Industries stores as part of the company’s rebranding effort, he said.

“The neat stuff about the way we diffuse scent is we don’t have to heat it up,” Torres said. “When you buy a Glade PlugIn and plug it in, the scent is really strong right near the outlet.” Prolitec distributes its scent more subtly and evenly throughout a space.

The company makes a proprietary distribution system that atomizes the fragrance into particles of one part per million. Users can adjust the speed and intensity of the scent distribution.

The completed pump comes in several sizes and can be programmed for intensity and frequency.

“The detectability is different with all fragrances,” Torres said. “Abercrombie & Fitch is somewhat of an aberration in terms of how intense they want it.”

Prolitec’s distribution systems come in three sizes, for consumers, retail customers and for very large spaces. For larger rooms, the device is hooked into air registers to increase scent delivery.

There are about 120 fragrances in Prolitec’s library, but those are constantly changing based on customer demand. The company sources the fragrance from elsewhere and assembles the distribution system in house.

Prolitec’s pumps only work with its canisters, which makes for a recurring customer base, Torres said. Depending on the frequency and intensity it is set for, a canister will last for between a month and a year.

The technology for Prolitec was originally developed in France. Richard Weening, chairman and chief executive officer, acquired the company and brought the operations to Milwaukee in 2006. Manufacturing operations have been completed at the company’s 25,000-square-foot facility at 1235 W. Canal St. in Milwaukee since it moved there in August 2008.

About 80 parts go into each scent dispenser, including a circuit board, compressor, hose and fragrance canister. Employees also quality test each pump to assure it works properly.

The company has about 50 employees. The consumer sized pumps are currently manufactured in China, but Prolitec may move those jobs back to Milwaukee, Torres said.

Working with its distribution network, Prolitec has completed about 35,000 installations, most of them overseas. Foreign markets have taken a greater interest in scenting technology so far.

“Scenting is not as kooky internationally. It’s more accepted (overseas) than it is here in the U.S.,” Torres said.

Executive vice president Roger Bensinger has hope for the future of Prolitec’s technology. It has the potential to be used in health care settings for infection control. The company is working with Johns Hopkins University to develop an airborne and surface antimicrobial system.

Prolitec’s sales have grown by about 50 percent each year since it launched in the U.S. The company plans to expand its production space by about 7,000 square feet and its workforce by 20 percent this year, he said.

Recently, its exporting success earned Prolitec a finalist spot for Wisconsin Exporter of the Year. The winner will be named on May 7.

“We really don’t sell a product. We sell a service,” Bensinger said. “Our mission is to go out and scent the world. It’s to create the right ambiance for the appropriate brand.”

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