How a St Annes scent maker turned smells into big business
Forty years ago, Dale Air was launched in St Annes dealing in air fresheners. It is now called AromaPrime and has evolved to create weird and wonderful smells for the leisure industry. Liam R. Findlay, a themed smell consultant at the company looks back on the business which has created scents for Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the Natural History Museum...
Although we are well-known in the industry today, we started around 40 years ago in St Annes. Our founder was Fred Dale, a businessman who created pleasant scents for shopping centres, offices and hotels. Little did Fred know that he was about to become a pioneer in the world of themed attractions when he received a call in the early 1980s, requesting the pongs of fish, roasted meat and a cesspit!
He was reportedly gobsmacked when the creative designer of JORVIK Viking Centre wanted these odours for a historically-accurate Viking village. The goal was for this new, ride-through experience, with costumed vikings and authentic surroundings, to immerse visitors in the past, and smell was considered to be a vital factor. Nothing like this had been done to such a scale before, especially with smells!
Despite his bewilderment, Fred took on the challenge, and the success of JORVIK Viking Centre led to a sudden boom in the demand for themed scents. Soon enough, Fred was concocting a signature Dragon’s Breath aroma for Camelot Theme Park, and when Blackpool-based Frank Knight bought the company, Madame Tussauds requested a Kylie’s Breath smell for their Kylie Minogue figure.
One of Frank Knight’s biggest projects was making a realistic T-Rex pong for the Natural History Museum in 2000, when they planned to unveil an animatronic model of the beast. He took a month working with palaeontologists to recreate the smell as authentically as possible, but the foul stench of disease, dried blood and rotting flesh stuck between dirty teeth might have been off-putting to visitors. As an alternative, Frank made a smell called Maastrichtian Miasma, which carried the boggy airs of a pre-historic swamp.
When more theme parks began to show their interest, Dale Air became a worldwide phenomenon, with no other company like it in existence.
Human scent receptors are connected to the part of the brain which processes memories and emotions, and that’s why people react so well to these unique aromas. The smell of cookies triggers comforting memories of eating them, making people crave food if they’re shopping. Our Dungeon smell is damp, triggering memories of dark, closed spaces – when the lights are low at a place like The Blackpool Tower Dungeon, people’s sense of smell is heightened, and this damp musk can make them feel claustrophobic and frightened. Alton Towers uses the smell of Woodsmoke for its Wicker Man roller coaster, building atmosphere, but also putting people on edge, because smoke alerts our minds to danger.
Our smells are not only used for fantastical settings, because they also to help people. Care homes with dementia patients use our Aroma Cubes, which are hand-held objects for sniffing, to bring back old memories. As long as we are able to smell, our scent memory stays strong, so the fragrances of Carbolic Soap, Coal Fire, Pear Drops and Cut Grass can unlock memories.
AromaPrime has come a long way since its time as an air freshener company on the Queensway Industrial Estate, but we continue to look back on the efforts of our past owners to inspire us going forward.
In fact, we are currently gathering content for a book which will tell every story in detail, from our part in the creation of world-famous roller coasters, to the time a museum put their flatulence smell into overdrive and made four schoolchildren vomit! It goes without saying that this job is never boring. If anyone has any stories they could contribute to my book research, please email me [email protected]