Fulton & Roark: Cologne in Solid Form

Design Features

When Kevin Keller left his job as multi-media editor at Paste to get his MBA at Wake Forest, he had no thoughts that his next career would involve starting a men’s grooming company. The idea for Fulton & Roark solid colognes didn’t come until he came across a similar product for women.

“I thought, ‘That’s a cool idea, but I think they’re doing it all wrong, and this should be a men’s fragrance,’” he remembers. “I think most guys have had that moment where at the gym or—God forbid—on a trip where a bottle breaks and they smell crazy for the rest of their trip.”

Keller was always a cologne wearer, just like the rest of the men in his family in Conyers, Ga., so he had plenty of opinions about what cologne should smell like. “There were a couple [solid colognes on the market already],” he says, “but the ones we found were either really, really niche, or totally terrible. Lots of dirty hippie fragrances. There’s a line of men’s fragrances right now that smells of beer, which is funny because all my life I’ve tried to skip the smell of beer and cigarettes, and not apply them directly to my skin.”

So he and his Wake Forest classmate Allen Shafer decided to launch Fulton & Roark using the resources of Wake’s business school and help from friends in town. They would make cologne in a solid form and market it through boutique stores.

“[Being in school] helped us think big and think a little weird,” he says. “And we had all of these wise professors. You know everybody wants to start up a tech company or a biotech company where you can make a million billion dollars, but that just isn’t where our hearts were. Once we convinced our professors ‘No, we don’t want to be the next Facebook,’ they were really supportive, and so Wake was supportive. Also when you’re trying to start a men’s company and you have around 50 men who are spending every day with you who are exactly the kind of guys you want to be marketing to, that helped a lot. We had a lot of testers.”

But figuring out the packaging and marketing and business model wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t been able to come up with a product that smelled good. They didn’t want to just create another cover of Fujiyama or one of the other oft-imitated scents in the industry. Shafer wasn’t a longtime cologne-wearer, but he’d worked as a coffee roaster and was used to testing smells and tastes for specific attributes.

“A lot of time was spent in what we call scent labs—which was at Allen’s house,” Keller says. “We did a lot of reading up on fragrance. We had a lot of catastrophes along the way, but a lot more that we want to put out at some point.”

For packaging they settled on a square, metal container. “We wanted something easily pocketable,” he says, “but that wouldn’t leave the skull line on the back of jeans. We wanted something that was equally at home in a pair of blue jeans and a pair of suit pants.”

They began manufacturing three fragrances earlier this year, which are already available in 27 stores in 14 states, from Arizona to Maine with a concentration in their home in the Southeast. They’re already working on the next product, a Fulton & Roark shaving cream.

“What’s been the most interesting thing for me has been people’s willingness to help,” he says. “It seems like everyone you meet and talk to wants to help in one way or another. I don’t know if that just speaks to how kind people are or if they’re showing a genuine interest in what we’re doing. We just haven’t had a lot of conversations where someone hasn’t said “Well here’s who you have to talk to next.”

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