CHICAGO — Theresa Garcia, vice president of operations, and Patricia Garcia Luna, vice president of administration, with Division Laundry & Cleaners in San Antonio, which provides commercial laundry services for South and Central Texas, believe that being women in the laundry/linen services industry presents challenges.
The sisters also believe it offers opportunities.
“Some challenges that we face are gender stereotypes, that we are ‘too emotional’ or ‘too bossy,’” they share. “Our perspective is that we are passionate and have leadership skills. We have to continue to fight these gender stereotypes.”
Teresa Avery, general manager, Munson Healthcare Support Services, Traverse City, Michigan, doesn’t think being a woman in the laundry industry is any more challenging than being a woman in any other market.
“I don’t discount that there can be more professional barriers for women than there are for men, but I have not personally felt that my gender is a disadvantage and I have always felt supported by my peers both male and female,” she says.
“I do believe that as in any industry we need to recognize the value of the women who work in our companies,” shares Noël Hammer Richardson, president, Shasta Linen Supply, serving the Sacramento and San Juaquin Valleys in California.
“I am a firm believer that women are extremely capable of multitasking and problem solving, which are skill sets very necessary for production and management in our facilities.”
All four of these women have shown themselves “extremely capable” and have conquered challenges to succeed in the laundry industry and were nominated by their peers for this article.
In Part 1, the spotlight is shined on the Garcia sisters.
THERESA GARCIA, PATRICIA GARCIA LUNA, DIVISION LAUNDRY
Growing up, neither of the Garcia sisters planned on being involved in the family laundry, but it was part of their young lives.
Theresa remembers at an early age listening to her father, Patrick, talk about the family business around the dinner table.
“Growing up we would visit the laundry plant, usually when it was not in operation, and my dad would put my brother, sister and myself into an empty low-rise laundry cart and take us around the plant,” Patricia shares. “I knew that my dad worked at a laundry and knew he worked with my grandmother but really did not grow up in the plant.”
Division Laundry was founded by Patrick’s father, Peter, in 1939. The laundry is where Peter met his wife Cecilia, Theresa and Patricia’s grandmother, who became president of the company in 1992.
“It was not until the company was going through a transition in leadership, from my grandmother (first generation) to my father (second generation) that there was an opportunity for me to enter into the business,” shares Patricia.
“They had a consultant they were utilizing for accounts payable and office manager, but she was no longer going to be able to work. My father spoke to me about the opportunity, and I decided to join and start learning accounts payable and that evolved into the office manager role.”
Patricia earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from St. Mary’s University in 2007 and started working for a food-testing laboratory as a lab technician, working her way up to chemistry technician and then a chemist. In 2010, she started her journey in the family business.
Theresa also attended St. Mary’s University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice. As she was deciding on her next step, she was applying for jobs. At the same time, Patrick was recuperating from back surgery.
“He needed someone to drive and help him daily at work,” she says. “I stepped in and started as his driver/executive assistant and began to learn about the business. I had not planned on staying but I have been working with the family for 10 years now.”
After starting as Patrick’s driver/executive assistant, Theresa moved to the customer service department and worked directly with customers. She knew she enjoyed working with people from her days working in medical administration after high school and in the university’s student learning center.
In time, she moved to plant operations, working with the plant manager to learn the entire operation, starting with soil sort and through the fleet department.
“In my younger days I did not appreciate the valuable service that our family provides to the community, both customers and employees,” she shares. “Now I appreciate the vital service that we provide our medical and hospitality industries and the economic and employment opportunities to our community.”
The sisters say they have had unique challenges because not only are they women in the laundry industry, but they were also the young third generation entering into the business with an older, more experienced staff.
“We essentially had to ‘prove ourselves’ worthy of our positions with our work ethic and ability to adapt,” they say. “Several times we were faced with the mentality of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ and had to overcome that mentality with persistence and patience. Nothing happens ‘overnight.’”
Much of that persistence and patience likely comes from Patrick. In June 2001, a fire destroyed the plant, and then three months later grandfather Peter died.
“Not only did our father have to direct the rebuilding of Division, but he also had to keep the business afloat as well as planning for the funeral of his father,” they share.
The sisters were in high school and middle school at the time and remember Patrick working around the clock to work with other laundries, reassure customers and reassure employees.
“The strength that our father had to get through the devastation is something that we remind ourselves frequently of,” they say. “No matter how difficult it gets, we get strength from looking back at how he had to overcome so much in rebuilding after the fire.”
Those qualities come through in the sisters’ advice to other women in the industry: “Be persistent; do not give up. Stand up for things you believe in. Find support in others that will ‘tell you like it is’ and be your champions.”
Check back Thursday when we shine the spotlight on Noël Hammer Richardson.