Midstate grad grows collegiate fragrance line
College life might end with a tassel turn and a diploma, but there will always be the memories.
And while those experiences are unique to each person, alumni share commonalities — colors, campus facilities, local landmarks, sporting events and other traditions connected to their schools. Maybe certain flowers or trees take you back to life at your alma mater.
Wouldn't it be nice to recapture that school spirit, that essence? You can. Just ask Katie Masich.
Six years ago, Masich and her family launched Masik Collegiate Fragrances in Dauphin County. The company develops and distributes signature perfumes and colognes for major universities.
Today, Masik — which moved its headquarters last year to New York City to be closer to fragrance supply houses and fashion retailers — has 20 major university partnerships, including many schools in the football-crazy Southeastern Conference, or SEC.
And with a growing national retail presence in Belk department stores, the company is poised to double that list of schools over the next three to five years, Masich said.
“Signature scents for a school has never been done before,” said Masich, a 1997 Central Dauphin High School graduate who majored in chemical engineering at Bucknell University. “It's exciting we've found 'white space' in a saturated fragrance market, but also challenging because it's something new and (fragrance buyers) need to determine how to merchandise it.”
Before the relationship with Belk Inc., which launched last fall, Masik was largely distributing its products at university bookstores and other local retailers.
The challenge remains trying to convince national beauty buyers that these are statewide schools that will sell to a broader audience because of large fan and alumni bases, Masich said.
“Because our product spans two categories — fragrance and collegiate — we often find the fragrance buyer may not be familiar with collegiate merchandise and its mass appeal and popularity,” she said.
The same is true for collegiate buyers.
Robert Jezowski, vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Belk, said the collection has strong potential for growth, especially in the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, where major collegiate sports are big.
Masich noted strong sales for the University of Alabama scents, as well as Florida State University and Auburn University. All three have been at the top of the collegiate football ranks.
Belk sells the Masik line online and in about 50 to 60 of its 301 stores.
Maureen Riedel, licensing director at Penn State, said the university receives hundreds of new licensing requests every year. This one was presented in a unique and authentic way, which led to its approval.
“(Katie) worked with our management-school students to discuss specific scents and sampled at football games to solicit feedback, as well as to get consumers excited about collegiate fragrances,” Riedel said.
Schools do not contribute any money to the research and development of the fragrances, which takes about six to nine months. However, they do receive royalties — roughly 10 percent — on every bottle sold. Each university is different, but the majority use the revenue for scholarships.
Through smell sessions, or sample groups, the universities also choose their official cologne and perfume scents.
“Every consumer has their own individual affinity to the brand,” Riedel said. “This offering provides consumers one more way in which to connect to the spirit of Penn State.”
'We've made it'
It's “surreal” to see your products on the same shelves as celebrity and designer fragrances, Masich said.
“I mostly think about all the hard work and years it took to get us here,” she said. “I remember thinking to myself when we started the company: 'When we're on the shelf with those brands, we've made it.' But the truth is I don't know if I'll ever truly feel like that.”
Masich said she is always thinking about how the company tells the story of each university's scents and what new products she can add to grow the niche brand.
“Our formulation process and how we work with the universities and getting that story out is, in our opinion, key to the success and staying power of our brand,” she said. “It is what makes us different and unique. We need to tell our story and grow our student ambassador program and keep our foot on the gas.”
Masik is planning to launch an air freshener line — patterned after the men's cologne and in the shape of a football — at each school this summer. The company also is working on body mist and spray products, as well as a lip gloss, Masich said.
So far, Masik Collegiate Fragrances has worked only with large universities.
“We certainly approach large schools that have state appeal and draw,” CEO Katie Masich said. “This is primarily for retail distribution. We work with schools we can sell across a state in stores.”
The company has been approached by many smaller universities, she said. It is working with its operational and supply teams on how to handle more regional distribution in the future.
“We’re trying to find a way to run small (orders),” she said.
Masich is making an exception for her alma mater, Bucknell University. It was the inspiration for the line, but Masich said she knew she needed a large alumni and fan base to test the concept.
The Bucknell University scent is slated for a fall launch.
The company does not disclose cost information to develop new products. Masich also would not discuss sales volume or revenue. Each bottle sells for $39.50.
For Katie Masich, the professional dream was always beauty and cosmetics. As a girl, she would spend hours smelling perfumes in local department stores, and she said she was fascinated by the link between scent and memories.
And like her father, an entrepreneur who owned an environmental consulting business, she wanted to start her own company.
Masich’s chemical engineering degree led her to ExxonMobil, where she spent the first seven years of her career. In 2008, she launched the fragrance company with her father, her mother and her brother.
Masik Collegiate Fragrances was run out of the family’s home in Lower Paxton Township, with a nearby warehouse off Linglestown Road. The product was manufactured in the Lehigh Valley.
Today, the company’s product is mass produced in Keyport, N.J., and all components are assembled and warehoused in Long Island, N.Y. Its office is across from Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Katie’s brother, Andrew, who also lives in New York City, is the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. Her mother, Carol, remains a partner and continues to help market the business from Dauphin County. Her father, Jim, died in 2011.
Masik also relies on Central Pennsylvania companies to help grow the brand and create products. For example, Melissa Miller of Harrisburg-based Made to Keep, a custom wedding stationary and design firm, handles design work for packing and marketing materials.
“It is important to us to support businesses in the community where we got our start,” Masich said, also citing local printing and photography partnerships.