“[I’ve been a business owner] in San Gabriel Valley since 2005, but I’ve been in the dry cleaning business since 1985.”
“In the LA Times, there was an advertisement that said, ‘be your own boss, a turnkey opportunity for dry cleaning.’”
“Whatever caste you were from back in India, people know what caste you were from. So, people are very cognizant of that fact. Lately, newer immigrants that come here are into IT, and when they are into IT they break all the caste barriers. So there is a big culture shock going on amongst Indians.”
“The biggest part of the American dream was we’d come to America and be successful, but none of us had a plan of what we were going to do. Coming to America was the tough part; once we came here, we’d figure it out.”
“99% of them will not know what dry cleaning does. It’s some kind of magic, according to the customer. So my job is to take that mystery away and try to tell them, trust us, we are good at what we do, we’ll take care of it.”
“The way we did business has changed. For example, after COVID, there are a lot of people bringing in just shirts but not pants. That’s because of Zoom.”
What is Ray’s Connection to the San Gabriel Valley?
Ray has been a business owner in SGV since 2005. Other than that, he loves the people, the culture, and the restaurants in San Gabriel Valley. He loves the diversity.
When did Ray come to SGV?
He’s been living in California since 1983 and moved to SGV because he often came to so many places here, such as Santa Ana Park, and LA Arboretum, and Ray and his family made so many great memories.
He also loves the horse races here.
Where did Ray come from?
Ray moved from India when he was 17 years old and initially lived on the East Coast of the United States.
He went to college in Pennsylvania, Penn State, and then eventually moved to Los Angeles to live the American dream.
When they moved to the United States, they loved the scenery of Pennsylvania in the Fall, but they didn’t know anyone and hated the cold, so they wanted to leave for warmer areas.
Was Dry Cleaning the First Business Ray and His Family Did?
When they first got here, they asked other Indian folks what they thought the family should do. Originally, they were told to buy a 7/11 convenience store.
They tried to get a 7/11 and needed a deposit, but they were turned down by 7/11.
Shortly after that, they saw an advertisement for a dry cleaning business. It pitched it as a “be your own boss” turnkey opportunity.
Where do Indians Typically Settle in San Gabriel Valley?
According to Ray, there is no “one particular” spot for Indians to settle down in SGV. It’s closer to the Temples and Mosques so that they can easily walk there.
Many immigrants do not typically have cars; however, once they learn the English language, it’s easier to move away and get by.
What Part of India were Ray and his family from?
Ray considers the area he was in the “melting pot” of India, or as he puts it, the LA of India.
It was near Bombay; there was a lot of business, culture, and the movie business. He wasn’t stuck in a religion or a caste there.
What was the original plan when coming to America?
Surprisingly, Ray and his family didn’t have a concrete plan. They just wanted to live the American dream, and the toughest part of that dream was actually arriving in America. They decided once they got here, they’d figure it out.
In retrospect, this was a little scary of a plan for Ray, but at the time, they were so determined they didn’t have a chance to be afraid.
How Does Ray Educate customers on Dry Cleaning?
When a brand new customer comes to Ray’s business, he knows they are familiar with dry cleaners based on the attire they wear.
Their wardrobe will determine whether or not they need dry cleaning. Ray does not shy away from letting customers know why they may charge more, but he makes sure to explain why the value is there.
Sometimes customers will try and tell Ray what they think should be done with the clothes; however, Ray stands firm and asks the customer to trust that they know what is best to do.
What Struggles with Business Has Ray run into?
There are always issues and difficulties that business owners run into. For dry cleaning, people want environmentally friendly dry cleaners.
Ray agrees with being environmentally conscious and understands that, more often than not, water is the best cleaning option for stains on clothes. However, nicer garments and colors need particular solvents that may not be the most environmentally friendly.
It does a fantastic job cleaning clothes, but when the solvent reaches the groundwater and potentially drinking water, it contaminates it.
The pandemic has been particularly rough on dry cleaners, too. The business was down 80% once COVID-19 hit. They are just now trying to get to pre-pandemic numbers. Now that everyone is on zoom, more shirts are being dry-cleaned rather than pants.
The SGV Place
Bhanu Restaurant offers authentic, Bombay-style food.
1. Hiking in San Gabriel Park up north
2 Huntington Garden
3 LA County Arboretum
About Ray Rangwala
Ray Rangwala has been in the dry cleaning business since 1985.
He owns and operates Esteem Cleaners in Pasadena and Glendale.
He is a business coach for other cleaners. Ray has facilitated several seminars for the Dry Cleaning Association in teaching his fellow dry cleaners of the secrets of environmentally safe “WET CLEANING” instead of the usual chemicals.
He has made Esteem Cleaners uniquely qualified in removing the toughest of stains because they incorporate traditional dry cleaning with enviro- safe wet cleaning.
Ray is very active in the community, he has chaired the Greater Los Angeles Dry Cleaners Association’s annual “Coats For Kids” clothing drive where they cleaned over 20 thousand lbs. & distributed them to the needy, he has been instrumental in helping an orphanage called Estado 29 near Ensenada, Mexico for the past 9 years and he goes there about 4-5 times/year.
Over the years Ray has become a member of several notable communities. He has been a proud member of the Rotary Club in Glendale, CA for the over 10 years. He has also been on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Cleaners Association since 1987.
Ray is also part of a franchise that are experts on Restoration Dry Cleaning: in restoring clothing, shoes, purses, rugs, & drapes resulting from a fire, mold or other catastrophes which the insurance companies can go directly to.