Winsome Fragrance Co.
In the News…


By Nancy Kimball

The Daily Inter Lake Flathead Business Journal

July 16, 2007

Babies were the mothers of invention for Mary Vail.

Vail, from her Whitefish home, is at the helm of her own company manufacturing products for children. She has good business sense that she wanted to put to use, but didn’t want to work away from her four children. The two paths merged after the birth of her twin girls, now 14. Vail found she much preferred that the babies she handed over when family and friends visited be sweet-smelling.

Thus was born Winsome Fragrance Co., producing roll-on cologne dubbed “children’s fragrance with a mother’s touch.” “I’m still at that stage where my family comes first, so I allowed my company to grow slow and steady,” Vail said of the start-up 13 years ago. “That was to my advantage.

She set up shop when the family still lived in California, and continued when they moved to Montana four years ago. With all her children in their teens now and her husband, John, retired, she gradually is getting the whole family in on the fragrance act.

Today, because of conscious choices and course corrections, Vail is making a life — not just a living. Research — intensive and non-stop — was indispensable for Vail.

When she got the idea for her children’s fragrances, in the pre-Internet-boom days, she found herself continually in the library. She talked with small-business organizations, especially the Service Core of Retired Executives. She pored over issues of Entrepreneur Magazine. She’s now reading the book, “Grow Your Business.”

She bought baby powders to get the scent right. She lined up chemists to make them. She found a bottle maker, a contract filler, a label maker, a box maker for the bottles and a graphic designer to make that packaging attractive. The business-to-business Yellow Pages were her bible, she said.

And she tracked down financing sources — not an easy task. Her great-grandparents had run their own bakery business, and her own business administration degree had taught her about writing business plans. But it wasn’t enough.

“When I started I couldn’t get a small-business loan so I had to take a second mortgage,” Vail said. Bankers had told her they were not giving those loans so, as an option, the Small Business Administration suggested a second mortgage — but only if she were willing to take the huge risk. It paid off with Winsome Fragrance Co. — which has grown now to a line of four scents, two for boys and two for girls.

Whether large corporations or small entrepreneurial ventures, businesses struggle without focused marketing. Vail’s product development and marketing were methodical. She tested her first products within her own parent-child play groups, a local community college’s parenting class play group and the Mom’s Club national organization. Once she was solid with the scents, Vail put her first products on the market in 1994.

“Then in 1997 I was able to do trunk shows at Nordstrom’s,” every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said. “That was a huge stepping stone for me.”

With customers requesting the products throughout the week, she finally landed the full-on Nordstrom’s account and has been there ever since. Today, she’s expanded to more than 750 department and specialty stores nationwide.
She’s selling 25,000 bottles a year — a number she hopes to double in the next five years. She plans to promote that expansion with press releases and store contacts with follow-up calls, but doesn’t plan on paid advertising because of her broad national reach and the expense involved.

It takes motivation and a proactive attitude, Vail said, to make a success of a business.

“You have to believe in your product. You have to be willing to accept a lot of ‘no’s’ and still believe in your product,” she said. “You have to be able to take the financial risk. You have to be willing to stick with it — it’s a big commitment.”

Reporter Nancy Kimball can be reached at 758-4483 or by e-mail at


VAIL’S VENTURE — Mary Vail, a self-described “mompreneur,”    created a line of perfume for children five years ago. Her Winsome Fragrance is now in more than 750 stores nationwide.



Palmdale, CA – 7 November 2000 – Fragrance – the classic holiday gift – is now a “hot ticket” item for the younger set. For the boy or girl who wants to smell grown up, fragrances for children make exciting, affordable stocking stuffers and Hanukkah gifts.

Lightly scented perfume oils in roll-on bottles are specially made for children by Winsome Fragrance Co. in California. The line includes Little Champ® and All Star™ for boys; Sweet & Soft® and Winsome® for girls.

“When kids get dressed up, they feel really great with the finishing touch of their own fragrance,” said Mary Vail, Winsome’s president. Vail developed the sweet-smelling product line in 1994, when her own four children were under the age of 7. “Adult colognes are too intense for young children, and definitely too costly,” Vail said. “Ask any parent whose child has accidentally spilled that expensive perfume or after-shave!”

Winsome products are available nationwide at children’s specialty stores and better department stores, such as Nordstrom and Dillard’s. To find a retailer near you, see our Retail Stores page or call 1-800-779-7796.

Winsome Fragrance products are non-toxic, alcohol-free and easy to use, even for very young children. Single fragrances retail for $8; gift sets under $15.
Little Champ, designed for 2 to 12-year-old boys, is the company’s top seller. All Star, with a refreshing, clean scent, appeals to older boys, ages 8 to 14. The unisex, baby-powder-like scent of Sweet & Soft is ideal for babies and young girls, while Winsome is a fresh, floral fragrance preferred by girls 6 to 14 years old.

Acton, CA – Mary Vail was tired of dressing up her children, only to have them spit up on themselves and smell bad the rest of the day.

“People think babies smell so good, but they don’t;” she said.

So, Vail took to dabbing a bit of her perfume behind their ears, but the scent was too strong. Eventually, Vail’s quest to mask the stench of her loving but malodorous children led to a business: Winsome Fragrance Company

It was five years ago that she manufactured her first children’s perfume, explained the self-described “mompreneur.” She called the fragrance Sweet & Soft: a roll-on substance that smelled suspiciously like baby powder. She marketed it to parents of girls over 6 months old.

The first year she managed to place Sweet & Soft in 50 stores across the nation, mostly in California.

Soon, customers were asking about a fragrance for boys. In 1995, the light scented yet vaguely masculine Little Champ was developed.

Production didn’t stop there. Preteen boys didn’t want anything to do with a product called Little Champ, so in 1996 she introduced All-Star, a slightly heavier fragrance for boys.

Vail said her husband wears either Little Champ or All Star every day and is told routinely by women that he smells good. They are surprised when he tells them it’s a fragrance designed for youngsters.

Now available in more than 750 department stores and children’s specialty shops nationwide, Winsome products are nontoxic, environmentally safe, biodegradable and do not contain alcohol or dyes.

“A 2-year-old can put it on themselves,” Vail said. “It makes them feel all grown up.”

This year, Vail developed a fourth fragrance, designed for older girls, that she calls Winsome. At $8 a bottle, Winsome Fragrances are a hit with kids, said Linda Hoghoughi, owner of Kids Wear.

“Kids like it very much and they ask their mothers for it,” Hoghoughi said. “Usually, the mothers will come back and buy some for a gift.”

Vail even has begun marketing Winsome Fragrance gift sets, which include lotion, body wash and shampoo.

Vail’s long-term goal is to have her products sold in every department store in the nation.

“This can get as big as the market demands,” she said.

Vail financed her business by taking out a second mortgage on her Acton home.

“It was a big risk,” Vail acknowledged. “I asked myself, ‘What is the worst thing that could happen?’ I figured that if I couldn’t sell any in stores, then I could just go to a swap meet and sell it until it was all gone.

“There was never a time when I said, ‘Forget it.’ If I started to get discouraged, I would read success stories in business magazines. I just had to remember it takes 10 no’s to get one yes.”

By Andy Ward, Valley Press Staff Writer



Acton, CA – 26 April 1999 – Mary Vail has built a thriving business around the lives of her four young children. Determined to be at home for them and still use her creativity and business acumen, Vail developed Winsome Fragrance Co. in 1994, a Southern California firm that manufactures children’s fragrances.

Vail and her husband hit upon the product idea in 1993, when their children were under the age of 6. “We’d get them dressed up and take them out,” she said, “then one of the twins would spit up. I’d dab some perfume behind her ears to mask that sour smell.” But Vail knew that her perfume wasn’t right for babies.

After a year of research and development, Vail introduced a line of four roll-on perfume oils especially for kids: LITTLE CHAMP®, ALL STAR™, SWEET & SOFT®, and WINSOME™. Available in fine department stores and children’s shops nationwide, Winsome products are non-toxic, nature-safe, biodegradable and alcohol-free. The perfume oils, body wash, lotion and shampoo are safe and easy to use, even for children as young as two years old. Further information on Winsome products and store locations is available by calling 1-800-779-7796 or see How to Order.

Vail personifies the “mompreneur,” a term used over the past few years to describe a woman who has left the traditional 9-to-5 grind to work at home and be with her children.

A former corporate travel agent, Vail worked for a movie studio until her first child was born in 1988. She had every intention of going back to work until she sat down and figured out the cost of day care, taxes, transportation, etc.

“When I calculated all the expenses of going back to work, I realized I’d be lucky to net $3 an hour!” Vail recounted. “It wasn’t worth it.”

Since launching Winsome Fragrance in October 1994, Vail happily juggles her business tasks around the children’s school schedules, extracurricular activities and bedtime. Even when working, she is accessible to her kids 24 hours a day. In March 1997, as the business expanded, Vail looked for another mompreneur to help with the growing workload. Her sister Sharon, who has two children, now runs the packaging and distribution operation in Milwaukee.



Acton, CA – 19 March 1999 – Start a new tradition at your house and delight your youngsters with a unique Easter basket treat – children’s fragrances in spill-proof roll-on bottles.

“When the kids get dressed up for church or Easter dinner, they can be just like Mom and Dad,” said Mary Vail, president of Winsome Fragrance Co. in California, “by adding their own finishing touch – a dab of lightly scented perfume oil.”

Made especially for boys and girls, Little Champ®, All Star™, Sweet & Soft® and Winsome® are available at fine department stores and children’s shops nationwide. Single fragrances retail for $8, and gift sets are priced at under $15. To find a store near you, call 1-800-779-7796 or see How to Order.

“When my own kids dress up, they want to put on cologne, just as their dad and I do,” said Vail, who developed the sweet-smelling product line for her own four children, all under the age of 10.

“Adult fragrances are too intense for young children, and definitely too costly,” Vail said. “Ask any parent whose child has accidentally spilled that expensive perfume or after-shave, trying to smell grown up.” Winsome products are non-toxic, alcohol-free and easy to use, even for children as young as two years old.

Little Champ, designed for 2 to 12-year-old boys, is the company’s top seller. All Star, with a refreshing, clean scent, appeals to older boys, ages 8 to 14. The unisex, baby-powder-like scent of Sweet & Soft is ideal for babies and young girls, while Winsome is a fresh, floral fragrance preferred by girls 6 to 14 years old.

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