Entrepreneurs: John Bleeden, Todd Durston and Berk Wasserman, founders of Archer Air Superiority, a line of air fresheners aimed at male consumers.
"Aha" moment: In 2011 the three colleagues at a Chicago ad agency decided to fill a hole they saw in the housekeeping market. "We're really tuned in to trends, given our backgrounds," Bleeden says. "We wondered why men weren't represented. Each of us contributes to the shopping and cleaning duties at home, and we don't want fragrances that smell like cinnamon-apple pie or spring meadows. We realized we're the guys we should be targeting."
Man caves: Archer Air's first collection of three sprays strives to replicate the smell of "manly places." Hunting Lodge combines scents of stone, gunpowder and "damp timber"; Distillery is inspired by bourbon, with notes of charred oak; and European Sports Car has hints of leather and aftershave.
Getting airborne: The team had visions of wearing lab coats and goggles while testing scents. "It wasn't as glamorous as that," says Wasserman, recalling the tedious back-and-forth with a local scent company. Dreams of being their own best ad client also subsided, he adds: "We thought we'd be able to make ads without anything getting in the way; then starting a company got in the way of making the ads."
Fresh funds: Each of the three invested $1,000 through the development and planning process, then another $5,000 for production, insurance, trademark and web development. They looked at it as an alternative to business school. "People pay a lot of money to learn what we're learning on the job," Bleeden says.
Design scent-sibility: The screen-printed, stocky aerosol cans (with eco-friendly, nitrogen-based propellent) were strategically designed. "It's very manly to hold a steel can and get that instant gratification from zapping it," Wasserman says. Finding a manufacturer willing to work on Archer's small initial order proved difficult until a stroke of luck found Durston sitting on a plane next to a chatty businessman with a connection.
Cost: Last summer the trio hit up stylish retailers in Chicago to carry their product, a process that helped set the $14 per-can price point.
Wafting fragrance: With no initial advertising budget, the three launched an aggressive campaign aimed at building viral interest. It worked: A September 2012 post on the influential men's website Uncrate.com generated $13,000 in orders within five days. The room sprays are now available at ArcherMen.com and at 29 upscale design and men's fashion boutiques in the U.S., Canada and Hong Kong.
Up next: Archer plans to unveil at least one new scent in 2013 and expand to other products, starting with a dish-washing soap called Archer Dish Whiskey. The goal is to go beyond kitsch. "We don't want to be a novelty item. Our goal is to be more of a premium match for consumers," Durston says. "We want to create something that not only smells good but looks good, something you wouldn't mind leaving out on the sink rather than hiding under it."