National Clothesline
Her own two hands
After spending a decade working at Lloyd’s Cleaners of Sierra Vista, AZ, Flor Castillo was ready to buy it and
make her heartfelt dream of owning her own business come true. Then, the unthinkable happened: the deal fell
“At that time when I walked out, it was my dream and I had been working in that store day and night. I was
practically running it like it was mine,” she recalled. “For a whole week, I did not eat. I did not sleep. I did not
shower. I had tasted something in my life that I never had tasted, which was to be an entrepreneur… just any
entrepreneur, an immigrant entrepreneur. So, I wiped my tears from my face and I took a shower and I said, ‘I
can do this on my own.’”
Instead of buying an
existing business, she
became determined to
create her own drycleaning
operation from scratch.
Flor soon discovered that
while she was an expert on
all things related to the
operational side of
drycleaning, she had a lot
to learn about the financial
aspect of owning her own
company. It was a long,
difficult process.
“I went back to the bank
because, of course, I was starting all over again,” she recalled. “I started a brand new business plan. I got
rejected a couple of times.”
Still, persistence paid off and eventually she invested her entire life savings to start Flora’s Dry Cleaning. With
everything on the line, she was ready to open. Unfortunately, when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma tore through
Texas, her equipment from Gulf States Machinery was understandably delayed by the devastation.
That’s when Flor opted to be creative to get her business as ready as possible for when it finally could open.
Flor decided to turn her garage at home into a working drycleaning plant model so she could start training her
employees, none of whom had any industry experience.
“I started molding and training them about two months before we opened,” she said. “What I did, I put rods up
and made it like they were the lines. Then, I gathered two ladders and put up another pole and I made it like that
was the clothes coming out. So, literally I made a little counter. I pretended that was a drycleaners… how are
they supposed to greet the customer, how they are supposed to tag the clothes, how they are supposed to check
the pockets. I really went into drycleaning mode and they literally trained there every day for two months before
we opened.”
Looking back, the preparation was the easy part; the hardest part was the fear of how the locals would respond
to the business.
“I did not know how the community would accept me because we live in a town where my competitors have
been here for 35 years. I was prepared because my grandma taught me to always be prepared for anything and
everything. I was prepared for the sleepless nights and the long working days, for struggling with the
competition, but the only thing that really, really, really scared me was how the community was going to react.”
The first three months that reaction was mostly silent. The work slowly trickled in and the pressure continued
to mount.
“I think the first week we were making like $30. $30!” she exclaimed.
Making matters worse, one of her first customers was skeptical that she could remove stains from an expensive
pair of pants for all the wrong reasons.
“I just don’t think you are capable of doing anything with it,” she recalled him telling her, “First I think you’re
going to have a problem because the label is in English.”
“I said, ‘Listen. Judge me by my work. Give me the pants. Let me show you my work. Don’t judge me by… I’m
a Hispanic, I’m a woman and the way that I look. Just judge me by the way that I work,’” she recalled.
He is a regular customer now. In fact, Flora’s has a lot of regulars who have certainly embraced the service.
The business has grown quickly in the past six months.
“I’ll tell you, the community has reacted amazingly,” she emphasized.
Some first reactions are stronger than others, like Flor’s feelings when she immigrated from Parral, Chihuahua,
Mexico to El Paso, TX, during the late 1980s. She was nine years old at the time.
“It was very hard on me, actually, being so young and being taken away from everything that I knew to
somewhere that I didn’t know anything about,” she explained.
She also missed her grandmother terribly because she had chosen to stay in Mexico where she was needed.
“My grandmother was the first anesthesiologist in our little town where we lived. Very, very humble people,”
she said. “My grandmother didn’t have money to buy books. Fortunately, somebody had left a scholarship and
they offered it to my grandma and that’s how she went to school. My grandma had her own clinic. She delivered
myself, most of my cousins, my brother… so she stayed behind to run her business.”
In time, Flor’s mother put herself through school and became a registered nurse and her brother is also an
anesthesiologist. Along the way, Flor also gained a loving an influential step-father, Manuel Romero.
“My work ethic I learned from my father,” she said. “How I run my store comes from what my father taught
Initially, Flor had designs on the medical industry, but her path seldom ran smoothly after she fell in with a bad
crowd at a young age.
“Life here moves a lot faster than over there [Mexico],” she observed. “I dropped out of school. I’m not high
school educated. I’m not college educated. I can tell you that I’m life educated. Everything that I went through
made me the woman I am today.”
During her twenties, Flor got an abrupt wake-up call. Her grandmother became ill and moved to the U.S. Flor
straightened up and took care of her full time for years which helped turn her life around.
When her grandma passed away, she was lost again, wanting to find direction in her life. She found it in the
drycleaning industry and soon became determined to be an entrepreneur and follow in her grandmother’s
Today, she believes her grandmother would be proud of her work at Flora’s Dry Cleaning. She regularly starts
her work day at 3:30 a.m., (so early that the police once knocked on the business’s door to make sure the early
morning lights were supposed to be on). That hard work has paid off.
“Walking into Flora’s is not like walking into a regular drycleaners,” she said. “We have such a strong bond with
our customers. I have customers who, when I’m on the spotting board, will walk from the counter to the spotting
board to hug me, to give me coffee. Here, it’s like a family home. This is my home and mi casa es su casa.”
It’s a small business with a small crew (Flor, her cousin Abraham Reyes, and two other irreplaceable employees
who didn’t jump ship even back when there was only a pair of a pants and a shirt for the cleaning inventory), but
Flor has tried to generate a big impact on the community.
“There was a gentleman who came in who needed drycleaning and he was literally pulling coins out of his
pocket. I asked him what he wanted his suit for. He said he was staying at the shelter and he needed his suit
because he needed to go to court. He needed it, too, to go to an interview.”
Flor, no stranger to the need for a second chance, empathized with the man and thought about some words of
wisdom that she had been raised with long ago.
“My grandma always taught me that everybody deserves a second chance. I cleaned his suit for free,” she
recalled. “That’s just how I was brought up. Grandma says you have two hands: one to receive and one to give.”
Whether offering free cleaning or discounts to those in need or those who serve in the military or local
community, Flor is savvy enough to know that Sierra Vista will thrive more if everybody works together.
“If Flora’s does well, everybody does well,” she explained. “My employees do well. My community does well.
I’m able to donate stuff to my community.”
When trying to buy Lloyd’s fell through, Flor had been devastated and depressed; but now she realizes it
probably all worked out for the best.
Instead of owning a business that had “equipment older than me,” Flor was forced to learn more about the
industry and make helpful contacts.
“The people in the industry, the turnaround I’ve had from them, the welcoming from them has been amazing. I
am so thankful and grateful that I run into people like them.”
She is hoping to use that knowledge and assistance to grow the business in time. Her main goal is to continue
educating herself every day.
She aims to be successful, but that isn’t necessarily defined by how much money comes in through the front
“I don’t intend to become a millionaire or a billionaire,” she said. “My father always taught me having a normal,
humble, comfortable life is all you need.”
So far, her family’s teachings have served her well. Even with a significant amount of trouble in the rear view
mirror, Flor continues to move forward without any regrets.
“There is nothing in my life that I would change because it made me who I am today and it taught me to
appreciate a lot of things in life,” she said.