urban oasis

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).

everyone’s business
     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 displayed.

floral focus
     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 p.m. Sunday.)

     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.”

making a statement
     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 senses.”

     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.”

stand-apart strategies
     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 Chicago carry.

     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 explains.

     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 display surfaces.

     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 flattering way.

Just off 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.
                   Pasquale Montana
                   Theresa Montana, AIFD

Fresh flowers are showcased by color in an open-air display that greets customers as they enter City Scents.

Containers in 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 settings.

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 ceiling.

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 multidimensional appeal.

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 & home

Owners: Pasquale and Theresa Montana, AIFD
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Established: 1987
Shop sizes: 4,000 square feet in main store; 800 square feet in City Scents II, a cash-and-carry store that opened in 2007
Clientele: all types at main store; young blue-collar workers and businesspeople at City
Scents II
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
Website: www.cityscents.com


best display tips

  • 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 below.

  • 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 ksmith@floristsreview.com or (800) 367-4708

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