Retired Carmel business owners reflect on service, career
By Sam Robinson
O’Malia’s Fireplace Shop at 115 Medical Dr., just north of 116th Street, is under new ownership after 49 years of business with the O’Malia family.
Helen O’Malia and her son Kevin O’Malia, who worked at the shop for 33 years, are preparing for retirement while reflecting on a life of business in the Carmel area.
Bill and Helen O’Malia opened the shop in the fall of 1966. It’s seen it all. The business moved three times, once after a devastating fire at its original location in Indianapolis. The business moved to Carmel in 1982, and as Carmel grew and expanded, the family business did the same.
Helen O’Malia, 83, said that she and her husband originally decided to open a fireplace shop because her husband had bad knees, so he couldn’t lay tile anymore.
“We decided he would have to do something other than tiles,” Helen said. That something ended up being fireplaces, which had little overlap with Bill’s knowledge of tiling.
“We knew nothing about it,” Helen said. “Little by little we gained knowledge of what to do.”
That meant she and her husband went to trade shows to learn more about business. Helen owned a hallmark shop on the side that sold gifts and baubles. As O’Malia’s Fireplace Shop grew into its niche, that shop closed and the entire family started working at O’Malia’s.
“We learned by experience.” said Kevin O’Malia, the former manager of the shop and one of Helen’s three sons said. “What we strived on is quality service.”
Kevin started working at O’Malia’s Fireplace Shop after he graduated from Ball State University in 1981. He said he didn’t expect the temporary position to become a 33-year career.
Kevin said that quality service was the most important part of the business.
“The reason we had to provide customer service was to be better than the big box stores,” Kevin said. “I think we succeeded with that.”
“You have to look at any business,” Kevin said. “You can’t compete on price. That never works. You have to compete on customer service.”
Helen said that’s the same attitude that her husband had, and it’s something the shop has always worked to uphold.
“He took care of the problems,” Helen said. “Anyone that came in with a problem, he would make it right.”
The O’Malias said that translated into loyalty. Helen said that her favorite part of the business was the customers.
“I would say the same,” Kevin said. “Some of the customers keep coming for years and years.”
“And then some of their kids,” Helen added.
Helen said that when her husband died in 1993, Kevin’s experience kept it from falling apart. But Kevin said that much of the business’ success is due to customer loyalty.
When the business initially moved to Carmel in 1982, it expanded its product line. They started selling patio furniture and grills as they became a general outdoors retailer. Kevin said that fireplaces still constituted a majority of profits.
“It’s probably the easiest part of the business,” Kevin said. “Fireplaces in general. But the patio furniture is a newer part of the business.”
Helen said that expanding into that new business was difficult, especially when competing with larger retailers. She said that, without excellent customer service to distinguish the business, they probably wouldn’t have done as well as they did.
“A lot of businesses can’t be independent against big box stores,” Helen said. “But if you buy patio furniture from a big box store, it’ll fall apart and you’ll replace it.”
“If you buy from us, it’s going to last,” she added.
Kevin said that the success of the business wasn’t by accident.
“Helen O’Malia was the best mother, boss and friend anyone could ever ask for during the 33 years I worked for her,” Kevin said. “Her drive and passion for the business was evident each and every day for 49 years.”
“She’s such an amazing person,” he added. “She always gave 110 percent.”
“We would like to mention we could not have gone 49 years without our great customers, current and past employees, family and friends” Kevin said. “It was a blessing to have all these great people in our lives.”