You never know when fate might reveal its plans. Meet one young businesswoman who landed in a field that’s the perfect combination of creative outlet and business acumen.
Erin Stoffregen studied architecture in college, to pursue her creative passions. But during her high school and college years, she also found a creative outlet in the event floral business, working with Debra Quillen, founder of Event Floral, 8181 Starwood Dr., Loves Park, Ill. Quillen, who launched her business in 2003, mentored Stoffregen who, after returning home with a degree in business management, was given greater and greater managerial and sales responsibilities.
It was only natural that, in January 2014, Stoffregen purchased the event floral business after Quillen decided to fulfill her succession plan.
“I was always creative, but I never knew I could make a career out of this,” says Stoffregen, now 26. “This career has challenged the right and left sides of my brain.”
Going through the succession planning process with Quillen was invaluable. “If I had stepped in without those five years, I wouldn’t have known some of the tricks of the trade,” she says.
Event Floral provides memorable backdrops to weddings, corporate events, showers, fundraisers, funerals and special birthday parties by using fresh flowers, table linens, chair covers, arches, prop pieces, candelabras, charger plates, draperies and ceiling treatments.
During peak wedding season, May through October, Stoffregen employs additional staff for a team of up to 15. During the off season, her core group of six runs the show, including three lead designers and two setup leads. Stoffregen is creative director and specializes in handheld ceremonial bridal bouquets.
Event Floral team members routinely manage multiple events on weekends. They might juggle as many as nine weddings between Friday and Sunday. Or, the transformation of a large-scale, formal fundraising dinner space, with linens, ceiling treatments and floral creations, may require their focus for an entire weekend.
Stoffregen says weddings are always near and dear to her heart because they’re so meaningful to clients.
“We have great clients,” she says. “We really get to know the couples and translate their personal stories and unique styles into the floral designs and decors of their special days. I love seeing the blank canvas turned into something beautiful.”
Stoffregen herself recently married, and understands the needs of modern brides. Her wedding reception, held in August 2010 at the Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms in Rockton, Ill., was patterned on a late-summer theme. Inside the glass-enclosed room overlooking the pond, Stoffregen stationed her favorite pink flowers, candles, crystals and branch centerpieces. The wedding table was placed in front of a dramatic stone fireplace.
Many couples emphasize seasonality in their wedding decor. Event Floral accommodates by bringing in items such as fresh evergreen trees to create a woodsy winter setting, or hay bales with planters of mums and fall foliage.
Event Floral decorates for weddings at many venues, including Prairie Street Brewhouse, Franchesco’s Ristorante, Dry Creek Estates, Anderson Japanese Gardens and local country clubs.
Today’s design trends include flowers in sophisticated palettes of whites, creams and champagnes, mixed with mints, blushes and greys. For a touch of glamour, these neutral colors often are mixed with metal or crystal elements, such as charger plates, metallic candleholders and flower stands.
The business is growing rapidly. As the economy continues to improve, Stoffregen has noticed that organizations are spending more money on their employee and fundraising events.
“Rather than cutting costs by foregoing table decorations, they might budget more to create a cool and unique event that rewards their employees or inspires fundraising donations,” she says.
Stoffregen differentiates her business by bringing a modern and refreshed outlook to her floral design and event decor. “Our clients often note how our work is ‘completely different’ or something they had never seen or imagined before,” she says. “We strive to make moments memorable and unique, so that each event or floral order makes a special impression.”
To help her business incorporate the “wow factor,” Stoffregen’s team watches trends by following the blog sites of industry leaders like Preston Bailey and Colin Cowie, and by reading trade magazines. They also monitor related industries such as fashion, home decor and interior design. “Awards shows are a great source for trending styles,” she says.
Event Floral operates in a business park near Aviators Stadium, and is open by appointment. Its space is also used for large-scale production and inventory displays.
Naturally, Stoffregen’s marketing includes displays at area bridal shows. Weddings are not exactly an ideal source for repeat business.
“Ideally, a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she says. But her customers might return when it’s time for that anniversary celebration, baby shower or special birthday party. They also might talk about their experiences with future brides.
Stoffregen also promotes her business through relationships with related vendors, such as event planners, photographers, DJs and bakers, who might offer recommendations.
Stoffregen has learned a lot from running a business. “I’m amazed at the amount of work done on the back end, and by how many hours it can take to prepare something like a proposal,” she says. “You may not appear busy when you’re not in production, but you’re busy behind the scenes.
“Having a business teaches you a lot about yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses,” Stoffregen adds. “I learned that your business has to be a reflection of you – your values and how you want to be represented.”
She’s also learned that most business mistakes come back to the common theme of communication.
“I’ve learned to provide as much information as possible to both my clients and my employees, to be sure everyone understands the vision we are creating and the expectations from all parties,” Stoffregen says. “I would rather ask or answer questions to confirm an idea, than to discover an issue in hindsight.”
Giving back to the community is important to Stoffregen. “Event Floral has always tried to be as generous as possible for local community and charitable causes,” she says. “We often donate fresh floral or decor designs for events, and I have volunteered my time to assist with decorating and setting up for special events.”
Her advice to someone looking to run a business? “Pick something you’re passionate about, as you’ll be putting in many hours doing it,” Stoffregen says. “It needs to be worth it for you. It needs to give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose.”
Stoffregen is the mother of two young children, so running a business and raising a family successfully is a real balancing act.
“It requires additional planning and prioritizing,” she says. “Although the event business requires flexibility and last-minute commitments, I try to pre-plan as much as possible and use to-do lists to stay on track in the short term. Dedicating time in advance to outside priorities ensures that workplace demands don’t encroach on family and personal time.”
For Stoffregen, all of the hard work running her business is worth it. “For me, it’s the greatest feeling to do a big event and to see it all done well,” she says. “It’s almost humbling.”