Solid cologne: How Malaysian micro brand Analogue Apotik has gone from 10 to 2000 units a month

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

How innovation, flexibility and convenience has helped Analogue Apotik compete with traditional ethanol and water-based products. [Analogue Apotik]
How innovation, flexibility and convenience has helped Analogue Apotik compete with traditional ethanol and water-based products. [Analogue Apotik]

Related tags: waterless, Fragrance, SEA, Malaysia, solid beauty

Malaysian micro brand Analogue Apotik is one of the pioneers of solid cologne in the Asian market, and now founder Adrian Cheong has revealed how innovation, flexibility and convenience has helped the brand compete with traditional ethanol and water-based products.

“When we started in 2015 the whole homegrown movement was growing in Malaysia with products like handmade soaps becoming popular. I was looking for a business idea and I read in a magazine article that solid perfume was the next thing. I thought it was a really good opportunity,” ​recalled Cheong.

Ready access to raw ingredients was another determining factor in his decision to launch a solid cologne brand.

“I could see it was something I could build in Asia. The ingredients we needed were beeswax, shea butter, almond oil and fragrance oils - in Malaysia we have easy access to all of these,” ​he said.

Simple formulations - 'no R&D support needed'

The first solid fragrances he created were “as straightforward as they could be”​ - variations on formulations with these three ingredients, aimed at the male grooming market, according to Cheong.

As the brand has evolved, Analogue Apotik has added female-oriented scents to the line-up and started experimenting with ingredients such as vitamin E.

“The beauty of being a small company is that we have the flexibility to act on customer feedback and tweak our products,” ​said Cheong.

One example of this was when Cheong changed to different beeswax to enable consumers to reapply on the go.

“One of the main consumer concerns with switching to a solid fragrance is strength - it gets very hot here and they want a scent that will last all day. The problem with creating a solid cologne that will last 12 hours is that during the first four hours it will be over-powering. Instead, we lowered the melting point of the wax so that it could withstand higher temperatures, allowing it to be reapplied throughout the day,” ​explained Cheong.

From 10 to 2,000 units per month

In the early days, Analogue Apotik was making and selling 10-20 units per month. Today, monthly production is up to 2,000 units, which are solid via online and offline channels across the region. Cheung Leung Kee in Hong Kong and SG Pomades in Singapore are among the brand’s flagship stockists.

Despite the higher volumes, all the products are still handmade at Analogue Apothik’s HQ in Selangor, although this could change as the company gears up for further regional expansion.

“We are hoping that the next phase will be attracting an investor to open new markets in Asia - there are still markets like Indonesia and Vietnam that we haven’t explored as exporting gets tricky. One of the ways round this is to move our production - if we set up a base in Indonesia it will be much easier to retail there,” ​said Cheong.

Asked why he thought consumers have bought into the concept of solid fragrances, Cheong replied that it was because it makes sense.

Making sense of scent: the rationale behind the brand

“Our tagline is ‘making sense of scent’; we wanted to create a product that made sense because it was easy to use and carry in your pocket. What we are selling is the convenience of using fragrance,”​ explained Cheong.

He added that another factor driving use was its moisturising benefit versus conventional eau de toilette products.

“Most of the big brands contain ethanol, which dries the skin out, and water, which requires the addition of preservatives to prevent microbial growth. What we did was to change that base to one that uses natural ingredients with moisturising benefits,” ​he said.

The brand has also established a following of consumers who have sensitive skin or allergies that prevent them from wearing conventional fragrances, according to Cheong.

“We have customers who have sensitive skin and who can’t use regular fragrances but can’t pinpoint what causes the reaction - whether it is the fragrances or other ingredients. Now they can enjoy wearing fragrance for the first time,” ​said Cheong.

Challenges: Covid-19 and growing competition

The last seven years have not been without their challenges, however; in 2020 the arrival of the pandemic threatened the very survival of Analogue Apotik, recalled Cheong.

“We were prepared for growth, then 2020 changed everything. Travel stopped and when nobody travels, nobody buys fragrances, so the whole thing stalled.”

At that point, he said moving into home fragrances and scented candles kept the business afloat and made him aware of the potential that existed beyond male grooming.

“We realised we were capable of building an entire portfolio around fragrances and have been expanding our range since,” ​said Cheong.

While this particular challenge has now passed, Analogue Apothik is now having to contend with increasing competition in the solid fragrances space.

“When we started we barely had any competitors; then we started seeing new brands popping up - mainly cheaper products from smaller players looking to make a quick buck,”​ he said.

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