Meet a mother and daughter duo who are celebrating 15 years of success in crafting beautiful floral arrangements, and find out why their desire to stand out has earned them a loyal following.
O’Fallon’s Fine Flower Shop is celebrating its 15th year in business. Opening in 2002, the cozy little shop, at 1605 N. Bell School Road, in Rockford, has stood the test of time by offering an ever-changing selection of flower arrangements, forging strong customer relationships and developing a well-selected assortment of specialty gifts.
Co-owners Kathy Caruana and her daughter, Amy Caruana, remember the days when you had to call ahead and speak with a designer to get a bouquet from local florists. But every year, it seems more grocery and department stores are offering quick, easy flower pick-ups.
“Part of what contributes to our success is that we don’t do wire-service orders,” Kathy says. “We have flowers you can come in and choose from, but all the work we do is custom, with premium flowers and personal arrangements. People seek us out because we do something different. It’s not the arrangement you would order online or pick up in a grocery store.”
Kathy and Amy have no objection to convenience and offer pick-up bouquets in their shop. But they follow a strict philosophy that no two arrangements made in the shop should ever look the same when they leave.
Although it takes more time and energy to create a unique arrangement, customers appreciate the flowers much more when they reflect individuality.
O’Fallon’s also helps its customers to place out-of-town orders at no charge.
Designs from O’Fallon’s embody many arrangement methods, from artistically unconventional to very traditional and classic. The owners say they go out of their way to find unique flowers that rarely make their way to supermarket counters. They make daily calls to various vendors to scout the freshest and the most remarkable flowers on the market.
Carnations and daisies, often considered “filler flowers,” are a rare find in an O’Fallon’s bouquet, unless requested.
“Making sure customers get what they want is one of the best forms of advertising,” Amy says. “If they walk away happy with what they got, they’re going to tell their friends.”
High-quality customer service is a top priority at O’Fallon’s, Kathy says. Regardless of the size of the order, the duo make sure they spend time forming an idea of what customers are looking for in their arrangement, by showing samples and asking about the people or occasions the flowers are for.
“Customer service is one of our strong suits,” says Amy. “We like to work with customers until the order is right.”
Both women worked for floral businesses long before opening O’Fallon’s. Kathy worked at a retail home and garden shop for many years. She chose merchandise, displayed it and managed numerous departments.
Amy worked in a flower shop while attending Boylan Catholic High School and enjoyed helping with floral arrangements. After high school, she attended the American Floral Arts School in Chicago and returned to Rockford with a desire to open a shop with her mother.
Although the pair hired employees to help out around the shop, they stay very involved with the family business, working with distributors, creating flower arrangements and following through to be sure customers are satisfied. Amy’s two dogs, Padaigin, a black lab, and Bella, a lab-shepherd mix, also play a role at the store, greeting customers and maintaining their own fan base.
Choosing a good location and projecting an appropriate image are important aspects of business success.
The duo scored on both, when they found what was originally a maintenance shed for highway workers on Bell School Road, transformed it and set up shop. They drew inspiration from a shop they’d noticed while touring Killarney, Ireland.
Looking at the quaint building today, one would never suspect it had any other purpose than to sell sweet-smelling flowers, charming garden decor and gifts. Mammoth flowerboxes spill with blooms along the shop’s exterior; ivy coats the walls in resplendent green; and a quiet pond, just steps from the building, speckled with geese and shaded by trees, completes the picture. When it came time to name the shop, the duo chose Kathy’s great-great grandmother’s maiden name, O’Fallon.
“It’s very much a destination shop,” Kathy says. “We didn’t really want to go for that strip-mall look, so we put a lot of effort into making our shop look how we wanted it. What we have is very Old Worldly, homey and traditional.”
Visitors drop in daily, not knowing what the shop is about, saying the outside appearance made them curious. Kathy considers the flowerboxes one of the best advertising decisions she and Amy ever made.
Along with beautiful flowers inside and outside the shop, O’Fallon’s offers a number of walk-in products like designer bouquets made fresh each morning, quality garden and home decor, jewelry, bath and body lines, and other gifts. O’Fallon’s offers a number of rustic goods with strong accents of gifts for women and outdoor decorations for gardens or landscaping.
“People are always surprised when they realize we carry a great selection of gifts as well as flowers,” Amy says. “But once they know we have all these great products, they keep coming back, especially because we’re always looking for new items and seasonally change our inventory.”
Their Christmas decor is very popular. Customers start asking about it as early as October.
Cooperation with other local retailers and community events is important to the team’s business philosophy.
“We like to collaborate with other local businesses to share the business we both get,” Amy says. “We really like to work within the community.”
By carrying products from local groups like Rockford Fire Department Coffee, Candle Crest Rockford Candles and custom wood furniture from S.C. Goodwood, Kathy and Amy support the commerce of local businesses and boost their own reputations.
Another local contribution O’Fallon’s has made in the past two years is participation in the Rockford Art Museum’s annual Art in Bloom exhibit, where designers are given an art piece they must interpret through a sculpture composed of entirely organic materials.
Kathy and Amy enjoy supporting the local arts organization. The unorthodox flower arrangements they’ve created for the show challenge their creativity and floral design skills.
O’Fallon’s was among the first vendors of the weekly Rockford City Market for five years, until Kathy and Amy decided to devote that time instead to their growing business.
Through the years, the women have learned a great deal about successful business ownership, such as the importance of differentiating yourself from competitors. O’Fallon’s competitive edge lies in its devotion to unique custom work and excellent customer service.
“Find your niche, find your own specific talent and then run with it,” Kathy advises other entrepreneurs. “When you open up shop, you have to find a style that only you have and that people can recognize in your work. Hone in on your individual talent and your specialty.”