Don’t let the buzz cut and the 6-foot 3-inch "big and burly" statute fool you. Don Coleman Jr. is a florist. Intense and deep-spoken, he rarely smiles. But mention flowers and his puppy-dog baby blues light up.
"Oh yeah, the greatest thing is to put about four Stargazer lilies in a vase of water and take them home, and the aroma is incredible," says Coleman, a former high school wrestler, rugby player and football tackle with a University of Arizona political science degree. "You have to understand, though, that I don’t get quite the reaction to bringing home flowers that most guys do."
He is one of the three men - dad and two sons - who own and run the three locations of Mayfield Florist. The original Mayfield, at Tanque Verde and Sabino Canyon roads, is the hub of activity.
"It’s not like I can make a beautiful arrangement," admits Coleman. "I’m the guy who can take the two colors in the world that won’t mach and put them together."
But he knows who can, and he hires them.
That’s one of the reasons Coleman, 42, his father Don Sr., 67 and brother Greg, 40, have managed to consistently be named one of the top 100 florists in the nation by Teleflora, a nation-wide network of florists with more than 25,000 members.
Recognition is based on quality and quantity of network deliveries.
We put our customers first, and we do everything we can to find the right people to make beautiful arrangements and make sure that those customers are happy," says Coleman, who started in the business as a Sabino High School teenager delivering flowers for his mother, Patricia.
"Pat" Coleman originally purchased Friendly Florist in the city’s far east side.
"The deal was closed on the same day my dad retired from the Air Force," recalls Coleman. Don Sr. soon abandoned plans to complete law school in order to help his wife with the business. Soon enough, the Colemans recognized that their first business location was being smacked hard financially by surrounding, long-term road construction.
They purchased the main Mayfield location in the early eighties and when Pat died in 2002, her husband and sons took over fully. Along the way, she also had purchased a mid-town location at Tucson Boulevard and Elm Street and another eastside business at Tanque Verde and Bear Canyon roads.
"My mother had a fine arts degree, and she always managed to find work wherever we lived, which was many places in the U.S. as Don Sr. lived out his career as a lieutenant colonel.
Pat particularly loved weddings and special events. And she loved having her family involved.
"Yep, I was all set to take the admittance exams for law school, and I went to work for Pat, and she just sucked me in," says Greg’s wife, Kelly. She works at the Bear Canyon location, but notes that she has ample time to contribute to the community and to the schools that her three sons attend. Don Jr.’s wife, Danielle, also worked for the business before becoming a local teacher.
"I guess you could say that we’re really blessed," says Greg who, like his brother, majored in political science and completed a summer internship with former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe in Washington, D.C. He’s also completed floral design courses and jumps right in with the orders pile up.
"We really get going during the holiday seasons, but we have time to give to our families and are very conscious of our community," participating and contributing in fundraisers, specifically those for cystic fibrosis, the Red Cross and other heart-related charities.
Brother Tom, who suffered from cystic fibrosis and eventually underwent a double lung transplant, also was active in the business. He died in 1997. A fourth sibling, Stephanie, died as a child.
Don Jr.’s daughter, 17-year-old Chelsea occasionally fills in, as does 11-year-old Sean, who underwent a heart transplant as an infant. He gets to clean flower buckets and water plants.
"Oh, yeah, he gets busy about the time he decides he needs a new video game or something," says Coleman.
Though neither brother will admit to having a title in the family corporation, they both know their jobs. Dad runs the books. Greg goes to market and orders the flowers. Don, Jr. oversees the traffic.
And sometimes it can be intense. During Valentine’s Day, the company hires as many as 50 extra drivers to make sure Tucsonans get their deliveries. Mother’s Day is a challenge, too.
"You know, you have people who say they will deliver anywhere in the area, but sometimes they leave the flowers at a Circle K, two miles down the road," says Coleman. "That doesn’t constitute a delivery to me."
Apparently, the work has gotten out. Customers call from as far away as Australia, South America, Canada and the United Kingdom to place their Tucson-area deliveries with Mayfield. Some of them do it over the internet.
One thing Don Jr. won’t accept is having a customer with withered flowers or an arrangement that isn’t specifically what was to be delivered.
"We are customer-driven, not employee-driven," says Don, Jr., who adds that investing in customer-response surveys and a hi-tech computer system have had a major impact on the company’s growth and achievements.
"That’s what I like about this place - if somebody doesn’t get exactly what they ordered or expected, I know that Donny (Don, Jr.) will listen and take care of it, even writing an apology note," says sales associate Olin Quaider. "But that kind of disappointment is rare."
Quaider is on the front lines. When customers call with a request for a funeral, wedding, get-well or other occasion, he’s ready.
"Some people really study flowers, and they know exactly what they want and what their price range is," says Quaider. "But the most important thing is that we try to educate our customers and let them know about what they’re buying."
For instance, when an October bride requested tulips for her wedding reception, Quaider was brutally honest about the anticipated outcome.
"Sure, we can get the tulips, but I had to tell her that that particular flower wasn’t going to last very long in the heat we usually experience in early October," says Quaider. "I like to make a sale, but I don’t want to sell something that’s not going to work for that particular customer."
Quaider has two decades of experience in the floral business, and he’s pretty much seen it all. From the nervous teenager ordering a prom corsage to the guy who wants to make up for a romantic faux pas.
"You know, you can remember what somebody did to you or what somebody said to you, but you never forget how someone made you feel, and that’s where flowers come in," says Don, Jr.
Shannon Travis is a Tucson-based freelance writer.