Interview with Todd Bennett, AKA The Cologne Guy


01st February, 2003

In 1995, back in the early days of the Internet, there was a website ran by the paper-bagged guy above called Answers from the Cologne Guy, which featured information on men's cologne.

Then in 1998 the site was no longer updated, and in 1999 it vanished. What happened? Where did it go? Basenotes gets the answers from the cologne guy - Todd Bennett.

 

"Who the heck am I, and why you want to listen...

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Todd, and I am a board certified C.F.S.S. (Certified Fragrance Sales Specialist) from the internationally renowned Fragrance Foundation. (There are less than a thousand certified people in the entire United States)   I managed the Men's Fragrance bar at a major department store in California for several years..."

Those were the opening lines to the long-gone website, Answers from the Cologne Guy, a fragrance review site ran by Todd Bennett from California.

Todd started of his fragrance career working as a young stockboy in a large department store, before moving over to the fragrance counter. He soon became the store's best sales person...

Todd Bennett "It was with my newly formed big-head that I left and tried to sell cars, shoes etc.. Which all turned out to be horrid experiences, so I went back to men's fragrance"

And a good job too, 'Answers from the Shoe Guy' would have been poor! Todd decided to start Cologne Guy because he hated the way most sales-people sold.

TB "They didn't actually help the customer - they just though of how to sell the most amount of fragrance, get the most spiffs. I really enjoyed consulting with people instead of thinking $$$. But, eventually I just got bored of consulting and selling in the store and decided I wanted to try this "new Web HTML thing" (this was in 1995). So I taughy myself HTML and thought "Okay - now I know HOW to do it, but what would ANYONE in the world want to hear about from me?"...And I just started typing. Tips, tricks, notes - basically the information I repeated to customers everyday."

"Then the e-mails started pouring in and people asked for reviews of fragrances. I thought, "Well, people do it for movies, so why couldn't I do it for fragrances?" - eventually the site had a full list of reviews, awards, tips, industry info, industry interviews and contacts as content, but the thing people always commented on was the fact that I said it like it is. If I hated it, you knew it, and most importantly you knew why!"

"People always seemed to wonder where the name "Cologne Guy" came from - It's funny - I used to sell a LOT of fragrances to famous NBA baseball and NFA football players, and whenever I saw them out of work, they would say "Dude, Check it out... You're that cologne guy that sold me that great cologne! MAN I love that stuff!" Since I started the site in jest anyway, I thought it would be funny to call it that - I never expected it to stick!"

In November 1995, Netscape (which was far more popular than it is today) picked Cologne Guy as a "What's Hot" link and the site recieved 75,000 hits in a matter of days...

TB "That started the media blitz.. It was written about in Vogue, Rolling Stone, Yahoo Internet Life, PC Magazine, USA Today, 3 books, 10 International newspapers and at least 20 more International magazines - it was craziness, I tell you!"

Not everyone agreed with Todd's reviews though...

TB "Most people agreed and nodded quietly at their monitors, but there were definitely those who disagreed - they would tell me ALL about why I was SO wrong, and that their mother's great uncles's dog's sister's father used to wear whatever fragrance and it was 'THE BEST' - I thought it was interesting how people took a bad review [of a fragrance] as a personal attack. Although I can understand why they might be a little upset as my reviews were a bit harsh sometimes, but that's why I think most people even bothered to come back! It's a rare day in the sales world for a sales person to tell you their honest opinion."

Todd came under a lot of flack for his honest reviews, and he nearly lost his department store job because of them.

TB "They found out I was the one who ran "that cologne internet site", and wanted to fire me because I was giving reviews that were too honest. Apparently [a big brand fragrance house] had threatened to pull out if my employer didn't convince me to shut down the site. [The big brand fragrance house] was upset because I didn't rank them as number one all the time. So, I posted the whole story to a queue of 500 lawyers on the net, and asked my employer if they wanted to hand a precedent setting case of censorship on the internet to a large group of media starved lawyers? They quickly backed off, but I had made my point, and most importantly proved to myself that I could stand my ground when I really needed to."

The Cologne Guy site ran for several years, Basenotes asked Todd what the high points were..

TB "Well, I think getting into Vogue magazine was an interesting wake-up call. It turns out that a writer from GQ magazine wrote to me asking for advice. In turn, he told his wife about the site and she happened to be a writer for Vogue. Next thing I know, there it is in the pages of Vogue. At that time, I also started writing a regular column for Perfume 2000 (an international fragrance magazine), secured advertisers, advised a few fragrance designers, AND most of all was loving the fact that people appreciated my help. So take all that and wrap it in one and you've got my high point!

Veteran Internet users will remember that one fateful day In 1999, Cologne Guy just disappeared without a trace. So what happened in the end?

TB "I shifted careers into the technology industry, which made me more money but took away all my fragrance industry contacts. Secondly, and this is going to sound horrible Grant, but in the vein of being brutally honest, I simply got bored. I guess I've got a LOT of excitement in me about starting new stuff, and the entrepreneurial spirit prevailed in the light if me simply maintaining the site. Dumb I know...!

I actually had a template all built for a relaunch, but when it came down to giving the kind of content people wanted, and were used to getting - i just wouldn't have it. Like I said, since I'm not in the industry anymore, I'm not going to have the inside scoop anymore. So that was that!

I found out later that some guy from Canada took over the lapsed domain name, but in the end, I don't think it was a good idea for him - I hear he got pounded with questions asking if he was "the real" Cologne Guy" and he just couldn't keep up!"

Finally, do you still wear much cologne?

TB I still have a small personal stash of about 30 bottles that I cycle through, but most often I find myself wearing Allure, Boss in Motion, Ted Baker, Bulgari and DK Men. A sporadic mix, I readily admit!

 

Basenotes would like to thank Todd Bennett, not only for taking the time to answer our questions, but also for inspiring the creation of Basenotes!

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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.

Website: http://www.grantosborne.com

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