Scientists tell us that our sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers we have. Think of a smell that instantly transports you back to your childhood - a moment you haven’t thought of for decades. This can work for - or against - your business as well.
Recently a friend and I spent time distributing posters for a local event to all the businesses in a business district. We went in and out of all sorts of stores, restaurants, shops and more. I have a horrible sense of smell and my schnoz can detect few odors. But sometimes something breaks through and I delight in the smell - almost any smell - since there are so few that reach my brain. My wife loves Disneyland’s attraction Flying over California because, she alleges, there are times when you can smell oranges or pine trees.
So I was surprised by the number of smells that reached my own smell-o-matic on this rainy day. There were a few places that really came across as smelling great. There were a few antique stores that smelled like antiques. But what surprised me is the couple of places that I went into that just smelled, well, bad.
There’s a local restaurant that my wife won’t go into at all because she says it smells like the grease trap. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant and had the, uh, experience of working with a grease trap it’s a truly unique experience and has a smell that is unmistakable. Unmistakably bad.
When we owned the resort it was my job to clean the grease trap because, frankly, I almost couldn’t smell it. Or I was used to it. And we were fortunate that we had plumbed it outside so, I hope, the guests couldn’t smell it. Although that rancid stench has a way of permeating everything. Yuck.
Since smell triggers memory so directly the moment I went into one of the restaurants it took me back to my high school days working as a dishwasher. Those were the days when my sniffometer worked just fine and the restaurant I worked in was an unclean dump. I think the grease in the frying machine was pulled from the owners beat up Gremlin (yep, it was that long ago!). I’m not sure when the floor was last cleaned. Or if it was. And the place smelled like that ancient grease.
Imagine my surprise when my schnoz woke up and took me back all those years to that horrible, disgusting dump. My first thought was a sense of deep sadness for those two couples who were the only ones to occupy tables in this place while the owner simply ignored us.
So for a business owner it might be worthwhile to have someone with a schnoz of distinction to come sniffing around, literally. Does your place evoke memories of happy childhood baking or is it more of a memory trigger for one of the most disgusting things some business owners have done?
I often cite the folks at Disney as an example that I like to follow and did you know that Disneyland actually pumps smells out onto Main Street? They actually have smells of freshly-baked goods. Other smells you might remember from your last trip to Disneyland include the magical aroma of freshly-popped popcorn, or those wonderful corn dogs.
Disneyland knows that wonderful smells can take your heart back to those magical days of childhood, right to your special spot at your grandmother’s table as you anxiously waited for her famous cookies to bake. And they certainly know that the grease trap is another memory trigger they don’t want you to ever, ever associated with the happiest place on earth. Because there may be two “‘p’s” in happy, there is no room for p-u. Make sure the p-u isn’t in your place, either.
Written by Anthony B. Barthel