How I Got Here: Richard Aviles

Current Position: Richard Aviles, 31, has been working in the dry cleaning and laundry industry for eleven years; the last five as the President and CEO of two professional garment care establishments in New York: Bridge Cleaners & Tailors in Brooklyn and King Garment Care in Manhattan.

The Family Business: Victoria (Richard’s mother) immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1970 when she was 18 years old. Victoria moved in with her sister who urged her to seek employment. New to America, Victoria did not know where to turn. Her sister suggested a dry cleaning business down the block owned by a Puerto Rican guy named Joseph (Richard’s father). Joseph got into the dry cleaning business in the late 1960s by purchasing a New Jersey-based Betty Brite franchise.

Joseph, who was 41 at the time, was hesitant to hire this scrappy fireball who was 23 years his junior. Joseph did not think Victoria was tall enough to reach the rails that housed the hanging clothes. Determined not to be denied an opportunity for gainful employment, Victoria jumped and grabbed onto the rails proving her range was capable enough to garner a chance. Amused by Victoria’s gumption, Joseph initially hired her as a sweeper. Victoria methodically advanced through the ranks learning how to press and spot. “While she was working her way up the food chain, she was also working her way into my father’s heart and vice versa,” recalled Aviles. “So they got married and sold their Betty Brite store and moved into the city.”

Upon moving into the city, Joseph and Victoria bought Ten Downing Street Cleaners, which at the time was one of the busiest and most successful dry cleaners in the area. Joseph would eventually retire leaving Victoria to run the business. She made a name for herself within the dry cleaning industry as a skilled tailor and successful business owner. While owning and operating Ten Downing Street Cleaners, Victoria came across the opportunity to purchase Bridge Cleaners in downtown Brooklyn. Even though the lease expired at the location of Ten Downing Street Cleaners, The Aviles Family maintains a presence two blocks away with their King Garment Care boutique store.

Claim to Fame: “What really separates us apart from the competition is that we have the largest, privately owned tailoring business in New York City.” Aviles employs fifteen tailors that focus solely on repairs and alterations.

Future Growth: The vision for the not too distant future is to continually expand the business via the pickup and delivery routes as well as their partnership with boutiques and corporate clients.

Career Change: Aviles got his real estate license when he was 18. “As much as I loved real estate, I knew it wasn’t for me; not for the long-term.” Aviles expressed his desire to Victoria to enter the dry cleaning business. “She said I was out of my mind,” remembered Aviles. “She told me to become a doctor, become a lawyer, do something else.” When Aviles turned 20, he hung up his career as a realtor and found himself learning the family business.

Education: While launching his dry cleaning career by working with Victoria, Aviles continued his academic pursuits and graduated from Baruch College in New York City. He double majored in Entrepreneurship & Small Business Management and International Marketing at The Zicklin School of Business.

Promotion: Although Aviles bought out Victoria five years ago, essentially making him the president and CEO of the companies, mother and son still work together side by side every day. Anything related to quality control comes under the watchful eye of Victoria. She also oversees the tailoring department. Aviles is in charge of marketing and business development. “Even though I basically own the business, it’s good for Mom to have skin in the game,” said Aviles.

Management Philosophy: Treating employees like family is something that Victoria instilled into Aviles. It was his mother who taught him the importance of knowing his employees in the same way he knows his family. Every new team member that comes on board to work with Aviles fills out a questionnaire that helps him understand what drives their passion. This practical tool gives Aviles the clarity needed to help propel his staff toward their goals and dreams inside and outside of the business. “People will never be passionate about what they do until you align their integrity and their family with what you do,” said Aviles. “If you take care of the people that you work with, they will take care of your business.”

The dry cleaning business in the eyes of Aviles is a vehicle that he uses to make a difference in the lives of the people that work with him. “I work with really extraordinary people who are trying to create a better life for themselves and their children,” said Aviles. “I truly believe that a rising tide raises all boats.”

Getting Schooled: The intellectual and academic development of his team is a big priority for Aviles. Through a partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Employment Center, any employees who have not completed high school are placed into a GED program to assist them in getting their diploma. “As of last September, every one of our service representatives is now enrolled in college,” boasted Aviles. Additionally, all Spanish-speaking staff is provided with ESL classes every Thursday in the late afternoon for three hours, thus making it possible for team members to fill other higher paying jobs where speaking English is a requirement. “It’s all about what we can do for our team to make our team a better version of what they were yesterday.”

Industry Affiliations: Aviles serves on the Executive Board of the National Cleaners Association (NCA) and is also a member of America’s Best Cleaners. He rounds out his industry involvement as a member of the Centurion Bureau in Methods for Management. “I’ve always had my mother as a sounding board, and I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are much smarter than myself,” admitted Aviles. “Our members in the NCA are brilliant, honest and shrewd business people; really creative and forward thinking people that really want to elevate the industry.”

Advice: He believes that the dry cleaning business is a shrinking industry and that it gets increasingly more challenging every day. Aviles insists that staying ahead of the curve is the best way to stay viable in a culture where employees in the marketplace are enamored with the comfort and convenience of casual dress days every day of the week. “You have to be growing your business at a faster rate; you have to be offering different services.” Aviles continued, “You have to be unafraid of raising your prices and really getting true value for the work that you do.”

Personal: When he is not working, the native New Yorker enjoys biking, boxing and racing cars. He has a dog named Henry. “He comes to work every day and basically runs the place,” Aviles said of his canine friend. Aviles is single and lives in Manhattan.

About John Leano

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