As a consultant to the drycleaning industry, Liz Davies leaves behind the
comfort of her home about 47 weeks out
of the year. It can be a difficult life, especially because she is fully aware
that she isn’t always the most popular
visitor when she arrives in another city.
“I used to make the joke that I’m probably the most hated person getting off of the airplane in a new city at a
plant,” she explained. “Think about it… if somebody said, all of a sudden, after 20 years of doing this, I’m going to
bring somebody in to show you how to do your job. You would say, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Every plant represents a different set of problems and new set of people to win
“I’m not given a choice on the
employees or the equipment. I
have to work with what I’m given
and to me that’s very
challenging,” Liz said. “I will work
with somebody who is a little
more receptive at first. Then,
what happens is, during the
break, they start talking about it.
All of a sudden, more people are
asking for my help in the plant.
I’m no longer a threat because
so-and-so said, ‘She’s really
helpful.’ Then they start to warm
up and they’re always so happy
when I’m there now. They can’t
wait for me to come back.”
The happiness stems from the fact that every drycleaning client seems to have
plenty of issues to address. That
was actually a concern of Liz’s during her early days as a consultant.
“I used to have this fear when I got to a cleaners that there will be nothing I
can improve on. These people have
been in business forever; what am I going to do for them?” she recalled. “Well, that fear went away in a short
amount of time because I soon learned that everybody has something that they
need to improve on. There’s not one
perfect plant because quality is an opinion. Quality is an opinion so something’s always going to go sideways and we
have to figure it out and present it back to the customer to where they’ll still want to come back to us.”
For the past few years, Liz has traveled all over the map in her capacity as a
full-time consultant; her high
demand may have something to do with the fact that her knowledge and expertise
seem to be all over the map, as
well. It didn’t happen overnight.
“It’s not that I know everything; it’s just that I’m very exposed,” Liz said. “I’ve been in every position all the way
down from the ground up, so I know what the employee has to go through and I
also have the eyes of a plant owner
because you really have to be running a profitable company.”
That exposure began when she was 15 years old and was hired to work the front
counter of Humphrey’s Cleaners
in Vancouver, WA.
“I started as a counter girl when we used to call them ‘counter girls.’ Looking back at it now, I still can’t believe
the owner put me up in front at that young of an age,” she recalled. “Back then, customers were different. They
were not as aggressive. I don’t remember hardly anybody complaining about their clothes or their service or
As much as she enjoyed greeting the public, however, she was eager to get to the
back of the plant.
“The minute I turned 18, I couldn’t wait to get on the equipment,” Liz said. “Back then, the owner wouldn’t let you
work equipment until you were 18.”
The job lasted about four years and it was a good enough experience for Liz to
stay in the industry and work next
for Finishing Touch in Vancouver while training to be a paralegal at Clark
Life did not go as planned, however. Liz never really wanted to be a paralegal
and even tried being a dental
assistant for a while, but drycleaning seemed to suit her better.
“What originally kept me in the industry at that time was the hours,” she noted. “I had gotten divorced and it was
great hours for a single parent.”
Most cleaners probably recognize Liz for her role as a contracted equipment
demonstrator for Unipress at various
industry trade shows. She’s been working in that capacity for over 20 years. She may be widely known for
to press shirts now, but she wanted nothing to do with them early on.
“I totally avoided shirts,” Liz laughed. “With a passion, I avoided the shirts. I kept thinking it would be the same
thing over and over.”
When her boss bought new shirt equipment, it was only a matter of time before
somebody called in sick and Liz
had to fill in. She discovered that she enjoyed the work immensely.
“Once I got on the shirt machine, apparently I was a natural,” she said.
In fact, it wasn’t long after she began working on the equipment that a Unipress representative
watched her in
action and recommended her for the next Clean Show in 1991.
“I didn’t have a clue what it was all about. I did not know that it was going to be
literally on stage. That was scary,
actually. Back then, we were in dresses and heels,” Liz laughed.
Working the equipment efficiently and seamlessly in front of a crowd of
scrutinizing experts was no easy feat, but
she enjoyed the experience enough to keep accepting invitations.
After close to 12 years at Finishing Touch, Liz spent about a dozen more with
Bee’s Tailors and Cleaners in
Portland starting around the mid-1990s. She also tried her hand as the plant
owner of Market Place Cleaners in
Tigard for about four years after that.
However, it was her side work as a consultant that thrived. When it came time to
decide between owning a plant
and being a full-time consultant, it wasn’t a hard choice. Liz moved to Boulder, CO, and has kept quite busy without
even advertising her services.
Her services, by the way, are plentiful. While most people recognize that she is
well-versed on all aspects of the
production and management side of drycleaning, she also likes to emphasize
better training at the place she started:
the front counter.
“I do CSR training, too, and those are the people who we’ve neglected the most during training,” she emphasized.
“Those are the ones who are representing us as the owners or as the business and
they can cause us a lot of
problems in the back end of the plant. It’s our customer service that makes people go away or makes them stay.”
Looking professional, being friendly and recognizing high end brands that the
customer drops off all contribute to
elevating the business to a much higher status in the eyes of the customer. To
help her clients understand the
problem better, she often participates in secret shopping.
“Pretty much every owner is just shocked when I voice record [during the secret
shopping sessions]. They are just
shocked at the way I was treated at the front counter,” Liz explained. “It takes an awful lot to get a new customer in
our front door and then to go ahead and lose them because of the customer
service… it is just absolutely amazing
the way the front end is in dealing with new customers.”
In addition to consulting and demonstrating equipment at trade shows, Liz also
made several appearances over
the years presenting educational seminars.
During a recent program through Methods for Management, she silenced a room full
of plant owners and
managers with a simple question.
“The question was: ‘Could you follow your own instructions?’ The room got very quiet and all of a sudden I heard
some laughing,” she recalled. “It was a serious question and they were actually thinking about it and they all
to the conclusion that they can’t.”
This didn’t surprise Liz, though. A large part of her job is trying to minimize the
communication gap between
employers and employees.
“When I’m in a plant, not only am I working with the operators, but I’m making sure that the person who is in
charge of all of the operators is at my side enough to make sure the
follow-through is going to be there after I
leave,” Liz noted.
As an industry lifer, nobody knows more than Liz the value of looking for
support from others. It’s the reason her
job is necessary, but it doesn’t mean she’s above seeking help herself.
The contacts she has made over the years have helped her improve her own skills
and knowledge and have made
her consulting career busy enough to where she has earned platinum status on two
“The technical support I have from this industry is amazing. We have a great
support in our industry and people
just need to reach out and tap into it. Everybody has help available out there,” she said. “It’s really about elevating
everybody. When we do that, we all win… as owners, managers, employees and customers.”
Unlike the customers who she first waited on at the counter in her teen years,
today’s consumer has much higher
expectations, which means today’s drycleaner has to do more to meet and exceed them. It all begins with properly
“I always ask them: What is going to make you more successful in doing your job?
What can we do to help you?”
Liz said. “Trust me, they open up immediately once they know that I’m there for them. To me, everybody has to
have the responsibility of doing their job… and the accountability.”
It’s an ongoing process, but fortunately for Liz, that just means job security for
“That’s what I love about this industry. Every day is a new adventure,” she mused. “Between equipment,
employees and customers, it’s always a new adventure.”