How I Got Here: Tami Parks

Current Position: Tami Parks, 49, is the founder and owner of Great Lakes Clothing Care & Wedding Gown Specialists in Holland, Michigan. *

The Business: Great Lakes Clothing Care & Wedding Gown Specialists specializes in wet cleaning, alterations, vintage clothes and wedding gowns. Parks is quick to point out that Great Lakes Clothing Care & Wedding Gown Specialists is a “clothing care” company and not a dry cleaner. However, Great Lakes Clothing Care & Wedding Gown Specialists won’t turn the dry cleaning items away. They will gladly receive it and wholesale it out to her parents’ company (Lemon Fresh Cleaners), but anything that requires a specialist’s touch stays in-house.

“I’m very proud of combining my love of fashion history, experience in the laundry and dry cleaning fields and the seven years I spent in bridal retail,” said Parks. “This company is allowing me to provide my customers and my employees with a unique cross-section of skills.”

Training Days: Parks is the third generation in her family tree to carry on garment care tradition. Her father (Roger Lemmen) and his dad worked together by owning and operating laundromats and dry cleaners. She began working in the family business when she was five years old. “I remember my grandpa telling me that he would pay me a penny for every piece of trash I would pick up off the laundromat floor,” Parks fondly recalled. “By the time I was 12, I worked 40 hours a week, doing wash and fold and giving out change at the laundromat.” By her mid-teens, Parks was waiting on the front counter and pressing. Upon completing college, Parks returned home to take on the role of office manager. She learned every aspect of the family business except the actual dry cleaning.

Branching Out: Parks’ mother (Kristi Lemmen) did all the wedding gowns for the family dry cleaning business and Parks gives her credit for imparting to her all the technical skills she possesses. Health issues forced Kristi to vacate her duties, so Lemon Fresh Cleaners adjusted by sending their wedding gowns to a Mississippi wholesaler. “Then Hurricane Katrina came through and their entire plant got flooded,” lamented Parks. “I remember having these visions in my head of these wedding gowns floating away in their boxes down the Mississippi River.”

Sensing the time was right to do something independently, Parks launched Great Lakes Wedding Gown Specialists in 2006. Using the space and equipment in her parents’ cleaners, Parks began preserving and restoring wedding gowns for retail and wholesale clients.

Enlarging Her Territory: “In 2007, I purchased a closed bridal boutique that had been one of my wholesale accounts,” said Parks. September’s Bride in Holland was a part of her business portfolio until 2014, when she sold it to devote more time and focus on her wedding gown specialist’s business.

 The first day of October 2020 is the target date for Parks to take over one of Lemon Fresh’s locations and re-brand it as Great Lakes Clothing Care. “I’ll still be sending dry cleaning to my parents’ plant, but we’ll be doing wet cleaning, wash and fold and looking to do some routes as well,” Parks said of her company’s most recent iteration.

Management Philosophy: Being in charge and decisive are things that Parks readily embraces as being par for the course when it comes to leadership. She said that conflict doesn’t scare her, but she would instead move through it, rather than avoid it. “I don’t mind being around people, but sometimes I do need to withdraw,” said Parks.

Advice: “Operate with cash as much as possible,” Parks said. “It lowers your risk and helps you sleep at night.”

Rewards of Labor: Parks believes that “success is doing what I’m called to do and being able to gain and share from it.” She went on to say that a natural by-product of achieving success in her business is “making enough money, or time, or whatever resource from it to make my life, and those around me better; my church, my community, my family.”

Industry Forecast: “Eco-friendly options and convenience will be important to customers.”

Essential Quality: Making it a continued practice to demonstrate, show and give others grace is paramount on her list. As a devout Christian believer, Parks realizes the importance of the theological implications associated with grace and how it governs and guides her personal life and business. Being in service of others for nearly forty years, Parks knows we live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. “Having grace in dealing with customers and team members is needed because you don’t always know where they’re coming from, what’s happening in their lives, or what kind of day they are having,” said Parks. “It’s so easy to be judgmental and unforgiving, but what I need to do is extend grace to them.”

A Good Book: Time travel and history are subjects that Parks finds fascinating. She recently got to revisit Forever by Pete Hamill. “I read it for the first time in 2003 shortly after publication,” said Parks. “This summer, I felt like reading it again, so I just finished it.”

Personal: Last month, Parks celebrated 28 years of marriage to her husband Jeff, an electrical engineer in the automotive industry. Besides eating out and traveling with Jeff, she enjoys knitting, embroidery and playing the piano. She is an active member of Pillar Church, where she also serves as the pianist.

Tami and Jeff have two sons, Josh and Jonny. Josh, a classically trained violinist, recently added to the Parks Family when he married Bethany in July. Jonny is a senior at Michigan Technological University, which incidentally is where Jeff attended college. Tami and Jeff make their home in Holland and relish all the possibilities of being empty-nesters.

* Parks said that five generations ago, Holland was founded, established and developed by her Dutch ancestors from the Netherlands.

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