Why Mombasa business owners are crazy for scents

For Mombasa business owners in the cosmetics, hotel and clothing businesses, the effects of a calming aroma can never be overstated.

In ancient Egypt, legend has it that Queen Cleopatra would fill her ship with roses, whose enchanting smell would create a memorable atmosphere.

For Mombasa business owners in the cosmetics, hotel and clothing businesses, the effects of a calming aroma can never be overstated.

Scents of different fragrances are common in most business establishments in the city.

For them, the workplace is where they mostly begin and end their day. It only makes sense to give such premises lots of thought and accord it special attention as they go about working in it.

The sweet smell left hanging in the air accompanied by a cloud of smoke is a result of a burned mixture of black substances called ‘oud’.

The oud is among the branches of many families of perfumes. It is deeply treasured by perfumers worldwide due to its woody, sweet and aromatic scent.

The burning of the oud incense is common in Muslim households, but Mombasa-based shop owners have made it a tradition to burn it every morning inside their shops to attract more customers.

Mr Salim Abdallah has been in the cosmetics and men's clothes business in the tourist city for more than 15 years.

He sells kanzu (white garments worn by Muslim men), kikoi (undergarments worn inside a kanzu) and bakora, a cane that signifies leadership.

“Whenever a customer passes by, they wonder why there is a cloud of smoke inside the shop, but when they come inside they get assailed by the sweet smell,” said Mr Abdallah.

The burning of the oud incense is common among Muslim believers and it is mostly practised on Fridays at home to give homes a ‘nice’ smell.

The believers note they borrowed the practice from Arabic nations.

“One time a customer came to ask about a kanzu but ended up buying the vase and the oud product I was burning that day,” Mr Abdallah said.

At the shop, the spices used to burn the incense are sold differently, similar to perfume sales.

“Each of them comes with a different fragrance thus varies in price range too. The cheapest goes for Sh1,500,” said Mr Abdallah.

The most expensive one is sold for between Sh20,000 and 25,000.

The oud that Mr Abdallah uses comes from Oman and Saudi Arabia.

How does it work?

First, a lump of coal is placed inside a glass-like container (vase) and ignited.

Small black spices (oud) that are in powder form are then sprinkled on top of the coal and smoke starts emanating immediately.

It is the smoke that contains the ‘sweet smell’.

Red Elegance shop owner and director Farhiya Alamoudy noted that the vase used for the oud burner is unique, made specifically for that purpose.

“You cannot use the common vases. They may burn and break. This is why you must have the specific one,” said Ms Alamoudy.

Besides attracting customers, shop owners reap millions from selling the oud products.

These include oil, perfume, air fresheners and body spray.

The most preferred modern-day ouds are Arabian, Turkish, and Persian.

“In a month, we sell 60 percent of the oud products,” says Mr Abdallah.

But the burning of the incense comes with its challenges too.

“Not everyone loves the idea, others may say I am using charms at my shop to attract customers, when all I am doing is giving the environment a different type of feeling,” said Mr Abdallah.

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