A Fontana Family Florist: MaryLynn Nichols-Arriola

Drawing of MaryLynn Nichols-Arriola

FTD’s heritage lends itself to fostering multigenerational shops like Nichols Florist. The Southern California-based shop opened in 1957 and is still family-owned & operated by MaryLynn Nichols-Arriola. “I’ve dedicated all my years to this one shop,” MaryLynn said. Her parents raised her alongside the business, letting her run among the flowers as they created bouquets for their friends and neighbors in Fontana. She continued, “I still enjoy my job after over 30 years in the business. I was born to be a florist!”

The artistry keeps floristry fresh for MaryLynn, letting her think creatively and enjoy an abundance of beautiful products day-in and day-out. In the early days of Nichols Florist, they had a geographic advantage setting up shop near flower farms in sunny California, but nowadays, most flowers arrive from South America to ensure they carry an array of colorful varietals year-round. “The flowers are just as fresh and bright,” said MaryLynn.

Coinciding with the creative component of floristry is the need for excellent customer service, often demanding more than other industries. Flowers are an emotionally significant gift associated with the full spectrum of human experience from celebrations to mourning. This expectation does not deter MaryLynn, and instead, she is grateful for the connection it fosters with her community. “Since we’ve been in this town since 1957,” said MaryLynn, “We have a generational relationship with customers where I can honestly ask how their grandparents are doing.”

The most involved client experiences have been during weddings — which MaryLynn remembers fondly. One of her most memorable wedding requests came in only two hours before the nuptials. The maid of honor responsible for ordering flowers had taken the money and vanished. “The poor father of the bride called me panicked saying, ‘My daughter is standing here with nothing to walk down the aisle with. What can you do?'” MaryLynn and her staff dropped everything to arrange bouquets, boutonnieres, centerpieces, and anything else floral within hours. “Weddings are equally rewarding as they are challenging. I’ve even designed cakes or helped dress a bride last minute; it’s my priority to help in any way I can.”

MaryLynn’s emphasis on customer service changed when California shut down entirely at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were doing everything non-contact through the phone or online orders, so it was difficult to not see any customers face-to-face.” There were smaller opportunities for connection, like making sure to wave from the truck when dropping bouquets on doorsteps.

However, the Wednesday before Mother’s Day, the Governor decided it was safe to buy flowers for this holiday. MaryLynn remembered, “It was the craziest experience trying to throw together a holiday like Mother’s Day in two days.” After the initial stress and worry, it turned out to be a profitable year for the Nichols’. Flowers were a way to show your love when travel was restricted across state lines or even down the street.

drawing of floral bouquet

As for the next generation of Nichols Florist, MaryLynn is hopeful but not clairvoyant. “It’s hard to predict because we’re such an old shop, I’ve seen highs and lows, and the only thing guaranteed is your work ethic.” She is hopeful about the future of small business, citing the recent interest in locally owned stores. MaryLynn has seen “…more and more new customers prioritizing shopping small and local.” She recently had a 20-year-old walk in the shop who said, “I love stores! I love walking into a store and looking at what they have.” After laughing at this exclamation that seemed evident to MaryLynn, she realized that the younger generation hasn’t grown up with brick-and-mortar retail. It is an excursion to go shopping when ordering online is the default. “I would love to see more outreach to potential customers like this young woman, so they understand there are real professionals behind their flowers.”

For aspiring florists, MaryLynn ‘s number one recommendation is to establish a strong business acumen. “I’ve seen remarkable floral artists fall behind on handling their books and accounts because they neglected the financial side of flowers.” Take some classes, learn the fundamentals, and excel from there. As for developing design skills, she encourages working with new materials and trying new methodologies. “Keep an eye on fashion trends and don’t shy away from unfamiliar flowers or techniques.” MaryLynn trained many florist apprentices that have gone on to create fabulous florals and says the best florists “…are willing to learn from other experts and care for the emotional side of the business with well-rounded interpersonal skills.” Heeding her example of craftmanship and care could lead to a flourishing family florist just like Nichols Florist.