How I Got Here: Kelly Kelleher

Current Position: Kelly Kelleher has been the vice president of Kelleher Equipment in Long Beach, California for the last 32 years. Kelleher Equipment is a family owned business that specializes in designing and building of dry cleaning plants. They also sell dry cleaning and laundry equipment. “Throughout the years, I have worked with every landlord in the shopping center industry and built hundreds of stores throughout California; primarily in supermarket centers,” said Kelleher.

The Family Business: In 1970, Kelleher’s parents (John and Diane Kelleher) started Kelleher Equipment. John had been working for the press company Forenta. At a trade show in New Orleans, John was given a top sales award and laid off on the same day. The advent of polyester as a wash and wear garment led to a decline in the pressing market and resulted in John losing his position with Forenta.

A slowdown in the industry coupled with very little capital did not deter John from renting a small warehouse in Downey, California. The objective was to rebuild and sell equipment, and Kelleher Equipment was born. John and Diane would take Kelleher and her two sisters to that little warehouse in Downey where they would rebuild equipment together as a family.

The Early Years: “Growing up, I was feisty and athletic,” said Kelleher. “I always played sports and was fiercely competitive.” She also remembers a simple life surrounded by a loving family that instilled in her the values that shaped who she is today. At a young age, Kelleher learned the value of hard work, perseverance, integrity, loyalty and that family comes first. “My faith also played a great role in my youth and is a very important part of my life today.”

Getting Groomed: When John went on service calls to dry cleaning establishments, a young Kelleher would often ride along with him. As a teenager, Kelleher went to the office every day after school to type out invoices. Her duties expanded to running permits to the South Coast Air Quality Management District as well as delivering drawings to building departments for the dry cleaning plants that her father was building.

College Days: While simultaneously attending Long Beach State University and National University, Kelleher continued to work in the family business. “During this time I also learned how to draft layouts,” remembered Kelleher. After graduating in 1987 with a degree in business administration and a minor in public relations, Kelleher continued to work at Kelleher Equipment. “I had already determined that I wanted to specialize in building stores and selling packaged plants,” said Kelleher.

Sibling Revelry: Although it has been over ten years since sister Kim worked for Kelleher Equipment, Kelleher gives her credit for helping operations stay on track. “My personality is go, go, go, as I love selling and working on projects,” she said. Admittedly, Kelleher tends to get lost in the little details. “Kim implemented systems in our business that really made a difference and helped me especially.”

Younger brother John Jr. picked up and took over where Kim left off. Kelleher continued, “He now makes sure all our systems are in check and adds the polished touch that I lack.”

Empowering Support: Kelleher acknowledges the challenges that come along with being a female salesperson in an industry dominated by males and given over to an extensive cultural diversity. “Obviously my parents are my biggest supporters,” she said. Having only daughters before the arrival of John Jr., Kelleher’s father was a staunch supporter of women in business. “He is fully aware of what women can accomplish if given the opportunity.”

Early Adopters: One of Kelleher’s earliest supporters also happens to be one of her largest clients. Gary Futterman and Bob Singer of Flair Cleaners in the Southern California area entrusted their business to Kelleher very early in her career, and continue to do so today. “We have developed a longstanding business, and personal relationship that I believe has and will continue to be mutually beneficial and rewarding,” she said.

Defining Success: Kelleher believes that success is coming home at the end of the day with a happy face and a good conscience. Another measuring stick is being able to provide for her family and the employees of Kelleher Equipment. “One of my regular prayers at church is to ask God to help me make sure my employees and family are always taken care of,” said Kelleher.

Words of Wisdom: “At the end of the day, our time is what we really have in life,” said Kelleher. She stresses the importance of finding one’s balance between working hard on the business and also taking the time to be with family and yourself. “Time can never be recaptured,” stated Kelleher!

Forward Thinking: In the next five to ten years, Kelleher feels that we will see a significant shift in the operation of your typical over the counter dry cleaner. “I envision less dry cleaning plants and less dry cleaner owners,” she said. She foresees more plant owners shifting to pick up and delivery route service.

With casual dress in the workplace on the rise, more wash and wear items in people’s wardrobes and a general shift in the formality in how people dress, Kelleher senses major adjustments on the horizon. “The industry cannot combat the change in how people live, so we will have to change.” Kelleher believes that many dry cleaners will move over to the wholesale laundry side to compensate for their losses in dry cleaning sales. She went on to say, “We even see a new trend in the clothing rental industry outside of formal wear that can certainly impact future dry cleaning sales.”

Clocked out: When she is not working hard running the business, Kelleher is active in the Italian Catholic Federation with her church.

Kelleher is also the current chair for Serve It Up For The Troops, a tennis tournament that benefits injured soldiers.

The competitive nature Kelleher nurtured while growing up has followed her into her adult years. She plays much tennis. On the weekends, she competes (and often emerges victorious) in various tournaments throughout California.

The Los Angeles Lakers basketball team have been the beneficiaries of her avid rooting interests going all the way back to the 1980’s Showtime era. To say Kelleher is a huge Laker fan would be an understatement. “I went to nine straight Laker seasons without missing a game at the Forum,” she boasted!

Personal: Even though it is a little over a year away, Kelleher, 53, and her husband Robert Casares, eagerly anticipate the celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary on December 31, 2018. Robert has been unsuccessful in his efforts to woo her away from Kelleher Equipment and work for him (he owns a State Farm agency). They currently reside in Huntington Beach, California.

She has two adult step-children that she and Robert raised and together they have a son, John Robert, who studies at the University of Oregon.

About John Leano

John Leano can be reached by e-mail: Leano@BryansCleaners.com or Twitter: @JohnLeano or www.facebook.com/johngleano