Step inside Flora’s Dry Cleaners & Alterations and that’s where you’ll likely find business owner Flor Castillo.

She works side by side with her employees, pressing garments, running equipment, and helping with overall operations.

Just 14 months after opening Sierra Vista’s newest dry cleaning business from the ground up, Flora’s was recognized as one of three national plant design winners at the 58th annual American Dry Cleaner Plant Design Awards, held in Cherry Creek, Colorado, in February.

“I was so honored,” Castillo said. “Nearly 60 dry cleaners from all over the country were entered in the competition, most of them businesses much larger than mine. Of all those dry cleaners, they chose three for awards and we were one of them.”

Castillo said several of the businesses were franchises and most were much larger facilities with more employees. Others had been in business for years.

“A Tide Dry Cleaners out of Florida was the first-place winner,” she said. “Tide has dry cleaning franchises all over the country and they operate as a subsidiary of the Procter & Gamble Company. So, for our small business of six employees from a small town like Sierra Vista to win a national award was very exciting for me and my employees.”

Flor moved to Sierra Vista 11 years ago with her husband, Victor Castillo, who was stationed here through Fort Huachuca.

“I started working for a Sierra Vista dry cleaners nine years ago, which is now one of my competitors,” she said. “At the time, I was brand new to the dry cleaning industry and had no idea I would be starting my own business.”

When she first started, Flor Castillo worked the front counter, then moved into the back part of the business where she learned “the magic of dry cleaning.”

“The owner was a mentor to me. I learned the business from the bottom up, and then built my own business the same way, from the bottom up,” said Castillo, who moved into a building at 970 Fry Blvd. which once housed a military supply store.

“We had to revamp the entire building, from drainage to electrical, to removing walls and doing all kinds of renovations. To make the plant work, we needed to take advantage of every square inch of space, which is exactly what we have done.”

Castillo’s six full-time employees have been with Flora’s since it opened its doors 18 months ago.

“None of them had any experience in the dry cleaning business when I hired them,” Castillo said. “I trained them by creating a mock dry cleaners in a building next to mine so they would be ready for opening day. I have fantastic employees. We all work very well together.”

Now that the business is established, Castillo said she’s able to compensate her employees with bonuses and pay raises.

“As an employer, that makes me happy,” she said. “This business is a team effort. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without my employees. I work alongside them and help them whenever they need me. I’m not one of those business owners who sits behind a desk in an office doing paperwork.”

Employee Stephanie Lord is the business supervisor and said she has found tremendous satisfaction in working for Castillo.

“Flor is always working. She’s one of the most motivated, determined, hard-working people I’ve ever met,” she said. “She takes good care of her staff and treats all of us very well. I truly enjoy working for her.”

Lord also spoke of how Castillo inspects every single garment before it goes out the door. If it doesn’t meet her standards, she contacts the customer and asks to hold garment so they can do it over.

“She has an eye for detail and is very focused on customer satisfaction,” Lord said.

On Thursday, Castillo and Lord are leaving for a major dry cleaning conference in New Orleans.

“This will be the first time I’ve visited New Orleans, and I’m really excited,” Lord said. “It’s going to be an educational experience for me, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the dry cleaning industry.”

For a small business that has been up and running 18 months, Castillo says she’s very happy with how her venture has evolved.

“I thank the community for the great support they’ve given us. This has been a dream for me,” she said. “We may be small, but we’ve proven we can compete with the big guys.”