Grooming company ventures into fragrance market

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Kevin Keller (left) and Allen Shafer, Wake Forest University MBA graduates, pose Oct. 31 at Farrell Hall, home of the university's school of business. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest University MBA graduates Kevin Keller and Allen Shafer are smelling the success of their company Fulton & Roark.

Keller and Shafer started selling a men’s solid cologne collection in August and already have the product in 30 stores in 15 states. The colognes are also sold on the company’s website.

“That’s hand poured in North Carolina by us,” Shafer said of their products.

“And assembled here,” Keller said.

In Winston-Salem, the colognes can be found at Angelos Custom Tailoring & Menswear on Harvey Street, Centennial Trading Co. on East Fourth Street and The Clubhouse Salon for Men on Townley Street. Fulton & Roark’s primary target is high-end men’s boutiques.

“We have been very fortunate,” Shafer said. “We have gotten into a lot of stores in a relatively short period of time.”

He said they have had to place reorders of their packaging a lot sooner than they had anticipated.

Shafer and Keller both moved to Winston-Salem in August 2011 to go to business school. Shafer had previously lived in Austin, Texas, and Keller had been in Atlanta, Ga. They graduated from WFU this year and now have full-time jobs with other businesses in Winston-Salem. Shafer is a marketer for an apparel marketing company, and Keller works in marketing for a promotions company.

The business partners started Fulton & Roark while they were students at WFU. The company got its name from their rescue dogs. Fulton is Keller’s boxer mix, and Roark is Shafer’s Labrador mix.

“Our names are very fancy and we wanted to have a name that was very authentic,” Shafer said.

Fulton & Roark received funding from the New Venture Seed Grants administered by the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at WFU. The company currently uses space in a building through WFU’s business incubator program.

“We spent a lot of time working on different scents, trying to get the scents right,” Shafer said.

Keller said that friends throughout the country provide feedback in their testing of scents for their colognes.

“Part of our criteria was making sure that we found people that were going to be honest with us,” Keller said.

Stan Mandel, professor of practice and director of Angell Center for Entrepreneurship at WFU, said that Keller and Shafer learned as they progressed on their business.

“Kevin and Allen are two very talented and focused individuals who saw the opportunity for F&R and systematically plowed through all the processes necessary for a successful launch,” Mandel said.

So far, Fulton & Roark has three scents — Hatteras, Shackleford and Tybee. They sell for $40 at retail.

The colognes are sold in a .2-oz. cast aluminum case, designed by Brandon Pakula of Atlanta.

The case is square with a slick, rotating magnetic lid that can swivel 180 degrees. Pakula designed the case so that men could put it in their pockets and roll it around. A bar goes across the bottom of the case partly to help compliment the one-handed motion necessary to open the case.

Hatteras is described as fresh and green with a light spice. Shackleford is a blend of sandalwood and warm amber. Tybee has a white musk scent, accented with rosewood and cedar.

“It has a clean smell to it,” Shafer said.

The business partners said that part of the reason they decided to create solid colognes for men is because their research showed there are not a lot on the market.

Shafer said shoppers can typically find a few solid fragrances for women in such high-end stores as Neiman Marcus, but solid colognes for men are not common.

“We just thought that men more than ever are interested in taking good care of themselves and are taking on new grooming habits,” Keller said.

He said they wanted to create products that work for men, particularly men who are on the go.

“You can throw this in your gym bag,” Keller said.

He said that Fulton & Roark colognes are also good to put in carryon bags for folks traveling, especially on airplanes, and for people who don’t want to worry about spilling or breaking a bottle of cologne.

“I have been that guy who had a bottle of cologne break while on a trip,” Keller said. “You smell horrible until you can get new clothes. Hopefully, if nothing else, we can prevent that from happening to any other man.”

Centennial Trading Co. has been carrying Fulton & Roark’s colognes since they were first released.

“They are great local guys who saw a missing piece of the puzzle that is men’s grooming,” Erik Stephens, co-owner of Centennial Trading said of Keller and Shafer. “They are doing something different and doing it well. I think the aesthetics of our two brands work very well together so we were excited to have them on our shelves.”

Stephens has noticed that customers compliment Fulton & Roark’s packaging first.

“After a sniff or two, people narrow down their favorite scent,” he said. “Out of the three available, there is one for every person, from all walks of life.”

Fulton & Roark is venturing into an industry – the fragrance market – that is estimated to be worth $8 billion to $10 billion internationally, according to the International Fragrance Association North America, based on IAL Consultants data. Of the overall fragrance market, personal care accounts for 25 percent of sales by end market, and fine fragrances account for 21 percent. By geography, North America accounts for 34 percent of overall sales.

Shafer and Keller have a part-time manager, David O’Connor, a senior at WFU, but want to grow enough to hire more people.

The business partners plan to develop more grooming products for men. They are starting with products that men tend to use around the sink and then will move to products used in the shower.

They currently have a shaving cream in development that they hope to have available in February.

“It’s a concentrated shaving cream,” Keller said. “It’s just meant to last a really long time. So while we don’t consider ourselves a travel brand, we think that men’s lifestyles call for all products to be travel-friendly.”

He said they will sell the shaving cream in a 3.4-oz. container so that it can be taken on an airplane.

“But it will last as long as what you’re used to from a full-sized can or tube of shaving cream,” Keller said.

By Fran Daniel/Winston-Salem Journal