The right combination of creativity and business savvy are driving this Rockford-area florist to play an ever-larger role in event planning. See how it’s grown and what it’s taken to make this rare bloom.
Erin Stoffregen’s handshake may feel cold and clammy, but it’s not because she’s nervous.
It’s because she has just emerged from her workshop at Event Floral in Loves Park, Ill., where she was elbow deep in flower arranging. Her handshake is firm, her grey eyes sharp and welcoming. This juxtaposition suits Stoffregen, who considers herself equally logical and creative, which may be why she’s so good at what she does.
The 28-year-old Stoffregen began working at Event Floral as a teenager when Debra Quillen opened the business in 2003. A seasonal employee through college, Stoffregen worked closely with Quillen to fulfill a succession plan after graduating from Rockford University with a degree in business administration, management. Initially, she studied architecture, which she thought would be the perfect pairing of logic and intellect with innovation and artistry. The curriculum left her yearning for something more hands-on, and when the opportunity to take over for Quillen presented itself, it seemed to be the best of both worlds.
“Things aligned really organically,” Stoffregen says.
In January 2014, Stoffregen took over ownership and has used her business acumen and artistic drive to grow the company, both literally and figuratively.
In addition to growing sales roughly 30 to 40 percent each year since assuming ownership, Stoffregen moved the company last August from the small studio space where Event Floral first sprouted into a large, industrial-chic warehouse and showroom at 7302 Rock Valley Parkway, where the business is maturing.
It’s much different from the old storefront, which was just one open space with a dining table in front to meet clients and a workroom with storage in the back. Here, there is much more space in which to flourish, and that has fostered a creative energy amongst the team.
“The new space has brought new life to both the design processes and personalities,” Stoffregen says.
She plans for Event Floral to be a one-stop-shop for her event-planning clients. Already having departed from offering just floral designs and simple accents, Event Floral now offers full-scale linens and large prop pieces to create custom installations.
Stoffregen anticipates this will help fulfill her clients’ needs to make event and wedding planning less stressful.
“We can seamlessly coordinate all of those elements instead of bringing in multiple vendors,” she says. “That’s why we love the new space. We can create an inviting atmosphere, let people feel comfortable, feel catered to. We believe in a high-quality product and we want to create something unique and custom for the clients.”
When 27-year-old bride-to-be Katelyn Pfaffinger was looking for a florist to transform her Oct. 14 wedding into a chic bohemian affair at the Starline Factory in Harvard, Ill., she recalled the vastly different but equally impressive floral arrangements from her sister and her friend’s respective weddings. Both women had used Event Floral, and though their styles and seasons were different, the one thing they had in common was a fabulous experience with Stoffregen and her team.
The two met almost a full year before the scheduled event to discuss Pfaffinger’s vision, but didn’t have much interaction for eight months. As the wedding approached, Pfaffinger arrived at Event Floral to discuss the arrangements in more detail. When she entered the showroom, she noticed a bouquet on a table that perfectly fit her vision: muted neutral tones, lots of greenery and varied textures. She made a mental note to point it out to Stoffregen, thinking, “That’s exactly what I want!” When they sat down together, Pfaffinger was shocked to learn that the bouquet she’d fallen in love with was a sample prepared especially for her.
“I had no idea that she was going to come up with something for me to see,” Pfaffinger says. “But they had my dream floral arrangement just sitting on the table. It was really sweet and unexpected.”
They worked together to come up with a vision that worked within the couple’s budget and included everything from bouquets to table settings and centerpieces.
“We had a dream,” Pfaffinger says, “and she broke it down into a reality.”
Stoffregen attributes her customer service philosophy partly to Quillen, who taught her that the clients are the most critical aspect of the company’s success.
Diversifying into a business that’s capable of full-service work has allowed Stoffregen to take on a variety of events, like corporate meetings, charities, funerals and social gatherings. By staying present and active in the community, the team garners inspiration, markets their abilities, and fills the gap between the busier wedding season and the rest of the year.
“It’s great exposure, and it’s a fun exploration for our designers,” Stoffregen says.
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Stoffregen knows the devil is in the details. A considerable part of Event Floral’s success lies in the behind-the-scenes methods and systems that Stoffregen has put into place to keep the wheels in motion, no matter if she’s in the shop, off-site at a location, or at home with her husband and three young sons.
“Coming up with routines and checklists has been huge,” she says. “When it’s time to execute, things go a lot more smoothly.”
Her business background shines through as she discusses the logistics of her craft. Putting standardized operational procedures into place has been pivotal in the company’s growth.
“Everyone is on the same page, and it also creates the opportunity to see the progression of our year on paper,” Stoffregen says. “Having a fixed back-of-the-house method allows the team more creative freedom when it comes to bringing life to a space.”
With a staff of 15 employees, there is no shortage of design perspective. Each designer has a unique point of view, and being able to bounce ideas off one another makes every day an adventure. Lead designers Diane Didier-Adolphson and Kim Dazey have decades of experience in design and retail. Manager Jordan Calgaro brings a modern, upscale approach. He was named one of the “Top 35 under 35” by the Florists’ Review Magazine in August 2017, heralded as a rising star in the floral industry. Event production staff have invaluable knowledge of venue and site logistics and methods for successful delivery and installation.
Stoffregen tries to position her staff according to their strengths and preferences, and she trusts everyone to jump in wherever and whenever they’re needed. And they do.
“Everyone here loves their job, loves what they’re doing, and you can tell,” Stoffregen says.
The passion shows in the petals, the presentation and the performance of the team. Creating beautiful arrangements that are both meaningful and memorable is Event Floral’s primary focus, but Stoffregen believes it extends beyond just the flowers.
Being a part of her clients’ most significant moments is a perk of the trade, but creating a life that allows her to have it all as a wife, mother and business owner is what makes Stoffregen a rare bloom.