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By Drew Truitt
Editor 

They Go Long at Long's

Relationships Build Lasting Customers

 

Last updated 5/22/2019 at 12:12pm

Drew Truitt

Maria Garcia, 18-year employee of Long's Dry Cleaners

A familiar face at Long's Dry Cleaners, a virtual Lake Wales landmark, is counter attendant Maria Garcia.

Back in 2001 Garcia was walking along Central Avenue when she happened upon owner Jim Brow standing inside the door at his dry cleaning business. After a brief conversation she was instructed to return the next day at 9:30 a.m.

Assuming she was meeting Brow for a follow-up interview, Garcia was pleasantly surprised to find she was hired and would begin her new job right then.

Eighteen years has passed since that chance meeting. Garcia's two sons now are grown (both are in their mid-to late 20s), and husband Rudy still works installing pools and helping out where he is needed.

Looking at Long's - and Garcia - not much has changed. Of course, they are a little older, and the awards, photos and framed certificates of merit on the walls documenting Long's many accomplishments and accolades have multiplied over the years to the point of needing to either build a new wall or replace older plaques and pictures with more recent ones.

Garcia wears the same serene smile and doesn't look like she's going anywhere too soon.

She likes working here. She loves Lake Wales. "It's a perfect place to raise your kids," Maria states. "Small towns, you know, you can't get into trouble. There's not much going on."

When asked where she hails from, she answers, "Texas, but when we think about going back we just say, why leave?"

Garcia also has a unique relationship with Brow. "One time a customer walked in and said, 'I saw your husband this morning.' I thought, now where did she see my husband? He is at work."

After a few moments Garcia realized the confident customer was referring to owner Jim Brow.

"We do have a work wife-husband relationship," laughs Garcia. "And sometimes I can act like a mother (to him)."

After 18 years of working side-by-side, it's understandable. We tend to develop familial relationships with our closest co-workers including owners and their families. And vice versa.

"I like working for Jim. He gives me flexibility with my schedule and let's me run the place like it's mine. Instead of a regular noon lunch," Garcia recalls, "I took my break at 2:30 so I could pick up my kids from school."

Often her children stayed with her at work until she got off, giving her the best of both worlds: time at work and family time. Both she and her family also benefited because she has weekends and holidays off.

Long's Dry Cleaners also goes long when it comes to customer retention and satisfaction. Fast approaching 75 years in business, Long's opened a second location at 1510 6th St. SE in Winter Haven to provide dry cleaning services to North Lake Wales, Dundee, Lake Hamilton and, of course, Winter Haven.

The best part of her job at Long's?

"It's the customers. You get to know them personally," Garcia relates. "I especially like to hear stories of their travels: Where they went. What they did. I feel like I was there, too."

 

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