From coconuts to freshly cut pine, the scents that emanate around the AVA & MAY office could easily make you feel like you’ve been transported to another part of the world.

Yet, the team behind the high-quality home fragrance and wellness brand is based in a newly-renovated office in Berlin, Germany.

That’s not to say it couldn’t feel like anywhere else. Situated above a row of multi-cultural restaurants and shops, the office has themed meeting areas that reflect destinations such as the Caribbean and Scandinavia.

Meanwhile, boxes of scented candles, diffusers, and room sprays named after destinations including Ibiza and Sri Lanka lie open and ready for testing in the dedicated “creative space”.

And the influence of global destinations? It’s very much deliberate.

The brand was founded by Akos Piffko, Ankur Bansal, and Sascha Dexler in late 2018 out of a desire to preserve their impressions from all over the world and re-live their dreams.

Their idea was simple - to create products that literally bring the distance into the customer’s living room.

Sascha, who is responsible for marketing, product, organizational strategy, and brand development, said: “All three of us had been working in the direct-to-consumer space for several years and we saw a big potential with tapping into the home fragrance market, being fans of high-quality fragrance products ourselves.

“Once we dug deeper and literally felt the emotion when trying the first fragrance samples we were hooked right away. We just knew we were after something.”

Ava and may candles big city life

As they were familiar with the direct-to-consumer space, incredibly, they were able to set up the brand in just a few months.

However, because AVA & MAY is almost exclusively sold online, the team had to tap into a way to sell their products to new customers “blind”, effectively.

Sascha explained: “Finding your product-market fit is key and reaching a decent level of brand awareness takes time.

“The challenge with AVA & MAY was always to make the scent experience tangible from a distance - until today we are almost uniquely selling online.”

Sascha Dexler

Co-Founder & Managing Director

“Over two years ago, we sat together with our suppliers for the first time and started to experience the power of fragrances.

“They immediately evoke memories of past travels, of destinations we had visited. This is when we knew that a journey around the world would be the perfect fundament for our brand and products.

“AVA & MAY was then created as two human beings that everyone can relate to, breaking out of their everyday life routines to go on a 12 months vacation.

“When they now sit on their couch, reminiscing about all that happened during this year, it’s the scents that remind them of every single destination.”

He added: “The packaging was designed by a friend of mine who is an experienced freelance designer. Each product is brought to life by translating iconic shapes and styles of the respective destination into colorful illustrations. A perfect fit for the lively story of AVA & MAY.”

Ava and may candle packaging

The stylish packaging brings to life iconic shapes and styles, fitting the lively story of AVA & MAY

Scaling Up

After their first year, it was clear AVA & MAY was becoming popular and the team decided to move from a WooCommerce-based environment to Shopify.

Sascha said: “We wanted to move to a more scalable infrastructure, and in turn, we also wanted to take our branding, marketing and CRM systems to the next level.

“We collaborated with an experienced agency from the UK who helped us with developing a bespoke theme and specific features we wanted to have.”

After less than two years, AVA & MAY now has over 200,000 customers across Europe, with dedicated online stores in the Germany/DACH region, Italy, Poland and France.

But how did they manage to garner such an incredible customer-base from people who may have been buying a product they had never even smelled before?

Well, Sascha says that the new Shopify platform allowed them to significantly ramp up their customer relations efforts.

“Originally, we were mostly sending out newsletters to existing customers and were running a rather shallow loyalty program which allowed you to get credits for every Euro spent.

“As of today, we have significantly expanded the loyalty program with a multitude of possibilities to earn VIP points, early access features and close collaboration with our most raving customers.

“We also moved to omnichannel, for example by running CRM ads and personalizing the shop experience.

“New customer acquisition is led by a large variety of influencers, amongst others.

“We have deep experience in the influencer sphere since the very beginnings of influencer marketing and are lucky to have amassed a large pool of brand ambassadors also for AVA & MAY.

“Especially since we market scented products online influencers help us to bring the fragrance experience across and describe what they feel.”

ava and may candles and difuser set

Brand Journey

Once these customers have been reached - either through social media influencers or newsletters, the most important next step allowing them to dive straight into the world of AVA & MAY’s world.

“Most visitors come to our website right after they saw our products with an influencer or in any other kind of ad.

“This means that the exposure to our brand has usually been quite short and instantaneous, which makes a connecting brand journey on our website all the more important.

“Especially with the transition to Shopify we paid great attention to letting our visitors dive even more into the world of AVA & MAY.”

Ensuring that this connection with the brand is continued throughout the entire customer journey, Sascha said it was also important that invoices matched the AVA & MAY design.

They use invoicing app Sufio, which automatically creates an invoice when a customer places an order - and offers the option to create custom made invoices that match the brand.

He said: “A coherent corporate design across all assets helps us to strike a memory with people and let them connect with the brand. By consequence, we applied our style guide also to our invoices using Sufio.”

Ava and may best seller product

COVID Impact

As AVA & MAY heads into the busy festive season, the ability to automate some of their services has allowed the founders to focus on new products, scents, materials and entirely new catalogs.

Transitioning to Shopify also helped the company through the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Sascha.

He said: “The impact of COVID was a complete black box at first, same as for most other businesses probably.

“When the crisis hit us, it was impossible to grasp if COVID led people to spend less on premium home & wellness products because of a potential economic downturn or if spendings would be even increasing because of an increasing importance of one’s well-being at home, together with the fact that e-commerce consumption was about to rise dramatically.

“In the end, we observed the situation very carefully, worked heavily on internal communication and tried to avoid any unnecessary risks.

“Likewise, we used the time during lockdown to push even harder on some of our key initiatives, such as the transition to Shopify, and experimented with new content initiatives, such as home stories on Instagram to give our customers a glimpse into how we cope with the crisis - both with tremendous success.

“A few months into the crisis I can only say that our team has done an excellent job on all fronts and COVID has brought us even closer together.

“We have finalized a wholly new web infrastructure in only a few months of time, we discovered new marketing approaches, new work routines but also the importance of personal exchange.”

Ava and may travel the world with fragrances

Words of Advice

With the pandemic changing the world forever, and young people potentially looking to forge new careers in the e-commerce space, what would Sascha say to someone hoping to follow in his footsteps?

Well, he says his advice is corny but 100% true.

“Every entrepreneur’s utmost goal should be to find your product-market fit, nothing else.

“It is extremely dangerous to scale too fast at this early stage of the business, even if this means long nights and a multitude of balls you need to juggle every single day.

Ava and may founders

AVA & MAY founders Sascha Dexler, Ankur Bansal and Akos Piffko

“At the same time, once you see the fit and traction kicks in your mind needs to be ready to switch to scaling mode fast, anticipating growth by hiring the right people early enough and removing yourself as a blocker from daily operations. Otherwise, you will never truly get your business off the ground.

“When it comes to pure e-commerce play I can only underline the importance of building strong communities, which is a consequence of a strong brand with proven values behind.

“Nowadays it is not enough anymore to put a nicely designed brand in front of the young generation, it needs to come with authenticity, inclusion and trust.”