City Scents creates a unique shopping experience in its Chicago
stores with savvy merchandising and clever display ideas.
by Kelsey E. Smith
Located just off Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile (Michigan
Avenue), City Scents Floral & Home counts some of the top
home décor retailers as its competitors. But Pasquale Montana
does not consider this a threat to the business he owns with his
wife, Theresa Montana, AIFD. “We don’t compete with our
competitors; we’re different than they are,” he explains. City
Scents differentiates itself with exclusive merchandise and
captivating displays of which customers take notice. These
elements earned the business the award for “Outstanding
Merchandising and Display” in our 2010 “Retail Florist of
the Year” contest, co-sponsored by the Wholesale Florist
& Florist Supplier Association (WF&FSA).
City Scents, which made its debut in 1987, today
encompasses a double storefront, 4,000-square-foot retail
space—approximately 1,600 square feet of which is display area.
Though near the Magnificent Mile, the store is located in a
primarily residential area. With hotels, schools and one of the
largest hospitals in the area nearby, the store attracts a wide
variety of clientele. “From the richest to the poorest, we cater
to everyone,” Mr. Montana says, though he adds that the average
order is $85.
A second location, known as City Scents II, opened in
2007. Located in Millennium Park Metra Station, a downtown train
station that, according to Mr. Montana, is “like a high-end
mall,” this 800-square-foot cash-and-carry store serves the
south side of Chicago and its suburbs as well as northwest
Indiana. Customers are typically blue-collar workers or
businesspeople on their way home from work, and they spend $20
on average. Most nonfloral offerings at City Scents II are gift
items such as balloons, cards and stationery, whereas the
business’s main location includes pricer offerings, including
the antique furniture on which much of the merchandise is
Open-air floral displays are the center of attention at
both stores. “We bring the flowers out in the morning, and
they’re put back in the cooler at the end of the night,” Mr.
Montana shares. (Business hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday
through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4
Mr. Montana notes that the stores are kept cool and the
flowers’ lifespans do not seem to be affected, and he relates
that displaying flowers in this manner promotes their
accessibility. “Customers can interact with them,” he shares.
“They can touch and smell everything, and they can see that they
can get quality flowers at reasonable prices.”
Though City Scents also offers giftware and home décor
items, Mr. Montana shares that flowers and plants—most fresh but
some permanent—are incorporated into every display.
Closely related to botanicals, distinctive containers
are an important product line, particularly those with
intriguing shapes and textures, and, like other decorative
offerings, they often are displayed in multiples. Charles P.
Harrington, who creates all of City Scents’ displays, says
fresh flowers are a great way to change the look of such a
display. “All the containers in a display may be white, and at
first pass, we may introduce florals only in tones of green, but
then to freshen it, we may remove all the green and introduce
yellow,” he explains. “So it’s still the same container display,
but we’re reworking the statement slightly with color.”
At least five “statements,” or looks, are showcased at
City Scents on a regular basis, with more during the holiday
season. Displays are color-driven, and each statement has its
own mood. “One section might be a very modern and sleek
statement, and right next to that might be a statement that’s
very rustic or ethnocentric,” Mr. Harrington explains. “Each
display should be an experience, and it should stimulate all the
He adds that drawing customers’ eyes upward is
important for creating a strong visual experience. For example,
a natural statement might have pods suspended on wires above the
display, creating a modern, sculptural piece. “A lot of
merchandisers just display on a surface and don’t look at the
air space,” Mr. Harrington points out. “That’s retail space; we
pay for it.”
Another way to dramatically yet inexpensively make a
visual statement is to change wall colors as the seasons change.
“We have kind of a loft environment without a lot of wall space,
but we have a large hard-surface vinyl wall to one side [of the
main front door], so, seasonally, that will be painted a new
color to emulate the change of the season and where we’re
going,” Mr. Harrington says. “It’s such a cheap way to add
excitement; it changes the whole environment. And it’s so
visible from the outside of the shop that when the wall gets
changed, customers know something’s up.”
With a vast variety of retailers on the Magnificent
Mile carrying gifts and home décor, City Scents has more
competitors in close proximity than the average florist.
Differentiating products—and the way they are displayed—are key
to the florist’s success. “Michigan Avenue has every home store
imaginable,” Mr. Montana says. “We have something different, and
our customers know it.”
One strategy for ensuring distinctive merchandise is to
become an exclusive vendor of a particular product, Mr. Montana
suggests. For example, City Scents offers a line of all-natural
body products made in France that no other stores in downtown
Display fixtures are another element of interest at
City Scents. In stark contrast to City Scents II, where, to
ensure focus on the flowers, everything is painted white,
including custom movable display tables, all fixtures at City
Scents are either antiques or vintage reproduction pieces.
“You can move all the fixtures around. They’re all
different colors, and you can use them over and over again, and
it’ll look brand new. It gives it more character, and it makes
the product look like it’s in somebody’s home,” Mr. Montana
All display fixtures at the main store are priced to
sell, and no two pieces are alike. Visits to flea markets and
shops that specialize in reproduction pieces help replenish the
Mr. Montana notes that anytime furniture is moved or
displays are redone, it is important to check the lighting as
well. Halogen spotlights allow the angles of the lighting to be
easily changed, ensuring that products are showcased in the most
Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, City Scents’ grand front windows
beckon passers-by to stop in for a sensory experience that
rivals national home décor retailers.
Orchid plants are popular “repeat buys” at City Scents. They are
displayed toward the back of the store—shown here among stacked
pots and colorful glass bottles—so customers can’t help but view
other merchandise on their way to pick them up.
Theresa Montana, AIFD
Fresh flowers are showcased by color in an open-air display that
greets customers as they enter City Scents.
interesting shapes and textures are hot sellers at City Scents.
Botanicals arranged inside a few of the containers add pops of
color to these neutral selections.
Antique and vintage reproduction tables and shelves serve as
unique display fixtures inside City Scents’ main store. All
furniture is priced to sell, ensuring ever-changing display
This view from the office/storage loft conveys the depth of City
Scents’ sales area, from baskets and bowls of merchandise
beneath table displays to pods and spheres hanging from the
Though varied, the items in this display are united through
their neutral hues. The rustic antique display piece features a
drawer that is filled with succulents, adding to the
Candles, room sprays and other home fragrance items are
merchandised along with votive holders and related accents
including glass pebbles, which are displayed inside the drawers
of the weathered fixture.
Such attention to detail has allowed City Scents to effectively compete
with the chicest national retailers. And with distinctive and
ever-changing floral and product displays, the business continues to
bring a breath of fresh air to the Windy City.
city scents floral
and Theresa Montana, AIFD
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Shop sizes: 4,000 square feet in main store; 800 square
feet in City Scents II, a cash-and-carry store that opened in
Clientele: all types at main store; young blue-collar
workers and businesspeople at City
Average sale: $85 at main store; $20 at City Scents II
Number of employees: 13 (10 full time; 3 part time)
Annual sales volume: more than $1 million
Show multiple uses for
products. City Scents displays the same product in multiple
areas of the store—and used in different ways. For example,
a ceramic bowl might hold fresh flowers in one area,
permanent in another and a candle in a third location.
“Repetition is very important,” says Charles P. Harrington,
who creates all displays at City Scents. “If somebody sees
something once, they’ll easily forget it, but if they see
something two or three times, and then also see it used in
different ways, it really gets the customer thinking.”
Utilize “air space.” Hanging product such as natural pods or
pendant lighting draws customers’ eyes up and is more
interesting than having everything on the same plane. Just
be sure to have several of the items accessible to customers
Refresh with color. City Scents does this in a number of
ways, including repainting its accent wall twice each year,
for spring/summer and autumn/winter. Mr. Harrington notes
that changing the color of flowers arranged in neutral
containers is another way to refresh displays.
Mix and match vintage display fixtures. This creates
interesting displays with merchandise at various levels. Be
sure to put a price tag on each piece of furniture. Allowing
customers to purchase the fixtures ensures a constantly
changing environment that makes merchandise look “new.” Mr.
Harrington notes that if something has drawers in it, he
finds something to put in them, making full use of the
space. “It just warms it up,” he says. “We try to make the
looks as residential as we can.”
Contact Kelsey Smith at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 367-4708
to purchase the current issue of Florists' Review.