Foster Consulting Going Global: Doing Business in China Makes “Scents” for Seattle-based Fragrance Company

By Josina Garnham, Experiential Learning Manager

Blackbird, a “fragrance design house specializing in perfumes, incense, bath and cosmetics” based in Seattle is seeking to spread its wings into emerging markets in China. As a small business they were challenged by determining the best way forward – how to navigate export issues, Chinese regulations for perfumes and cosmetics and ultimately how to best market their product to this new customer segment.

Founder and Creative Director, Nicole Miller and project strategist, Chris Blohm attended a workshop this spring at the Foster School hosted by the Export Finance Assistance Center of Washington and co-sponsored by the Global Business Center. The timing was right. It was at this workshop that they learned about the potential to partner with a team of Foster undergraduate students involved in an international business consulting class. The team would put their consulting hats on for 10 weeks and provide Blackbird with some strategies and ideas to implement.

Foster students consulting for Barefoot Yoga during Spring 2017

The student team uncovered the vast potential for the Chinese market – beyond the known size of the country, population and the emerging middle class. Importantly, there is a rich history of perfume and incense use in China which was suppressed under the Maoist regime. China today is poised to return to using these products as Western goods are increasingly considered status symbols. The team suggested specific scents such as peach and guaiac woods that were prized during the emperors dynasties. This was a key finding for Miller who indicated she is able to nimbly create perfume blends and get them to targeted customers relatively quickly.

A group of students during a consulting project in 2015

Beyond the project with Blackbird this spring, other student teams were working with additional business clients. The companies and projects vary widely, although broadly most focus on some aspect of international market entry. This past year, students assisted a VR medical education company explore market expansion opportunities in Europe; a Brazilian lumber company determine the best ways to do business in the Pacific Northwest including import regulations, port selection, freight management and potential distribution channels; and a cosmetics company develop a marketing plan for expanding their reach in Japan.

In both the Spring and Autumn quarters each year, students develop consulting skills in an academic class setting and then practice these skills with real-world clients. These are truly win-win opportunities. The students learn how to manage a project, demonstrate team and leadership capabilities, and effectively communicate with clients. Recent alum, Ben Ferrara who participated in several consulting engagements during his tenure at Foster commented that these projects are “definitely some of the most valuable and enjoyable parts of my Foster experience.”

Oftentimes synergies occur between the students and their clients and opportunities for additional project-based work or an internship may emerge. This was the case with Blackbird – the team’s work on customer segmentation was impressive enough that they requested one of the team members do additional marketing work over the summer. Even more of a win-win!

On the business side of the equation, the companies gain in-depth research and analysis, a fresh perspective on a challenging issue and ultimately thoughtful recommendations on how to do business in a global environment. All this at the low cost of – free!

If you have a business problem or issue you have not had the time or resources to dedicate to, please reach out to Josina Garnham, Experiential Learning Manager at josinag@uw.edu or 206.616.8626.