Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

Claire: We clean, launder, press and repair clothing. We do speciality items like formal wear and wedding gowns along with household items such as drapes, comforters and rugs. We've been doing this since 1985.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

We moved here in 1984 from the Bay Area. We tried moving up here 10 years earlier but couldn't figure out how to make a living. Then in 1984, we moved up here with our two sons.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

We had four laundromats in Ashland, Talent, Medford and White City called The Laundry Room. Then a banker in Ashland said there was a dry cleaner filing for bankruptcy and asked if we were interested in acquiring the equipment. We had the space in the White City laundromat so it was a natural progression to do it. We started taking classes then began dry cleaning in 1991. Jack did the cleaning and spotting, and I did the pressing and alterations and took care of the counter.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

Two years ago we were able to purchase our own building. I wish we would've done it sooner. We were in Cascade Shopping Center for 15 years, just paying rent. We also needed more space. We have 2,700 square feet now and only had 1,500 square feet before. We wish we would've gotten the more intensive training classes back east sooner. We didn't make major mistakes, but it helped us to be more efficient.

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

Making the decision to go into business for ourselves and decide we can work with each other. Jack was a supervisor with Pacific Bell in Sunnyvale, Calif., and I had a preschool and day-care center in the Santa Cruz Mountains before. I had some business experience, but he hadn't. Working for somebody is totally different than working for yourself; the bottom line is you're responsible and it's almost a 24/7 job.

Who are your competitors?

When we moved to the valley there were five dry cleaners in Ashland and 12 others around the valley. Now there are two in Ashland, including ours, and eight around the valley. In reality, we had too many dry cleaners, there wasn't enough of a population base and some retired. It's easier to retire and close than to find somebody to purchase the business. There are a lot of drop stores where the work is done elsewhere. Weldon's is on Stewart Avenue with four drop stores around the Valley. Nu-Way is on Main.

What are your goals?

We are in a unique facility. White City is not exactly the typical place for a neighborhood cleaner and we need to grow our customer base. We do a lot of pickup and delivery, that's how we've grown our business. We do a lot of dress shirts. Business people don't necessarily still wear as many suits and ties as they used to, but they do wear the dress shirts and slacks. There are days when I think we should have a couple additional drop stores and days I think about staffing them and it's difficult to find employees qualified for those jobs. Both of our sons are in the Navy and the oldest son, John, is due to retire in two years from the Navy and has expressed interest in taking over the business.

What training or education did you need?

You need a knowledge of fabric and the construction of garments to understand how they are going to hang on a person and where they need to be fitted properly. In dry cleaning you need to know how to sort according to weight, color and fabric content. You won't clean your silks with your wools, the abrasion from the wool could hurt the silk. The National Cleaners Association provides classes and continuing education through the Web. The Oregon Dry Cleaners Association also provides continuing hands-on lessons as well. NCA puts out watches for problem garments, where there have been several problems such as when dyes come out and cause the fabric to fade.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

More than anything else, remember your days are going to be long, especially when you're building your customer base. Make sure you are financially sound. Join industry associations if you have them; they are invaluable. If nothing else, network with like people. It's hard work and you're responsible to your customers, your employees and yourself.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com