Over the past decade, Carlos Gonzales has become a household name for many in the exterior cleaning industry. Known for his strong work ethic, his positive affirmations, and his ability to stay above the fray, “Los” is somewhat of an industry legend.
His story, in many ways, is the American Dream – coming from a troubled childhood, joining the military, becoming an entrepreneur, then rising to international success. However, his story is not simple, nor is it always pretty. And it’s a story that he has largely kept to himself – until now.
On November 18, Carlos will officially be letting go of his pressure washing company, New Look Power Wash, which has been his passion for over 20 years. He’s selling the business in order to focus on the amazing international growth of his Enviro Bio Cleaner (EBC) line of products. With the bittersweet transition, Carlos agreed it was time to tell his powerful story. The whole story. And I’m honored to be the first to help him share it with the industry and beyond.
We’ve decided to divide his story into four parts, starting today which I will release at the beginning of each week for the next three weeks.
Part 1: His Family's Legacy
Carlos grew up in a small community in Western Pennsylvania, where he and his siblings spent their childhoods in and out of foster care due to their mother’s alcoholism. “I spent my childhood wondering from one day to the next if we’d be pulled away and put back into foster care.”
In all, Carlos lived with around five different foster families, ranging in length eight months and four years. With the ins and outs of foster care, Carlos and his siblings experienced a lot of emotional and mental strain. “There was no consistency. No foundation. No parents to guide and teach me what a young man is supposed to do in life. I had no aspirations. No family tree.”
When Carlos looks back on that time in his life, he doesn’t resent or blame anyone. “It was just how it was supposed to play out.”
Years later, his mother passed away due to substance abuse. “She died a very lonely death in a skid-row motel in Atlantic City.” Several years ago, his brother also fell victim to substance abuse, and died of a heroin overdose. “Substance abuse was our family’s legacy.”
Life in the Big City
After graduating from high school, Carlos joined the U.S. Navy and traveled the world. For the first time, he began to experience big cities and be exposed to what society was really like. However, the disease that followed his family began to catch up with him as well.
People in the industry who’ve been around Carlos know that he does not drink, but that was not always the case. While the Navy, he began drinking pretty heavily, to the point that it was becoming a problem.
Five years in, he decided to leave the Navy, receiving an honorable discharge. He was then given the choice of staying in San Francisco, or moving back to Pennsylvania. He chose California.
“I was still a young whipper snapper (around age 23) and I was finally free. I was naïve. I had no family, and I began digressing from who I knew I was as a person to someone I thought people expected me to be.”
Carlos got involved with the wrong crowds in the big city. Soon, Carlos was homeless, living on the streets in San Francisco, sleeping in abandoned buildings, drinking heavily, and experimenting with other substances.
“One of the profound moments of my life was when I found myself going to a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving dinner. I had hit rock bottom. I was truly at a point in life where I realized if things didn’t change, I’d either end up dead or in prison.”
The Beginning of the End
Carlos sobered up and got a job with a non-profit that dealt with homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues. It was at this time when Carlos first met Bettye, his wife. Bettye’s sister worked for the same non-profit organization and introduced the couple. “Bettye saw something in me that no one else had ever seen, and that impacted me. It got me through my lowest points. She hung in there. She believed in me.”
The couple married, but Carlos still didn’t deal with some of his deeper issues, and eventually began to relapse. He began drinking again and hanging out in the wrong places with the wrong people.
The very last time that Carlos drank, he was in West Oakland in what he said was “probably the worst neighborhood you could find in any inner city.” But something happened. A voice inside spoke to him: “You’ve got to get out of here or you’re going to die here.”
So he started walking.
“I walked for many miles, in the dead of night. I had no money. I hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. But I walked and walked until I reached the hospital. I checked myself into the E.R., told them everything I had done, and that I needed help. I couldn’t go back on the streets.”
That was the beginning of the end.
Carlos quit cold turkey.
No doctors. No meds. No therapy. “That day, I made a decision that I would never put my family or myself through something like that again.” And this time it stuck.
That night, the “new Carlos” was born.
Part 2: A New Look on Life
Fast forward a few years to around 1996. Carlos and Bettye were living the American dream. He had a good paying job with a dot.com company in Silicon Valley. They had a nice home, barbecues on Sunday, a baby girl, a pet cat, and two goldfish.
“I always thought that having money would be the cure to some of my ‘speed bumps’ in life. But here I was, the director of sales, getting paid well over six figures. I had a staff working under me. But I knew there was still something missing.”
Then the dot.com market tanked and Carlos lost his job.
He and Bettye had saved up a nice nest egg, so Carlos decided to take his time and search for mid-level management job that he would enjoy. However, sitting around the house and doing nothing was not in his DNA.
“In a fit of boredom, I rented a little cold-water pressure washer because the outside of our house was dirty. My neighbor was a painter, so I borrowed one of his ladders and started washing my house.”
Over the next few hours of Carlos “screwing up my home’s stucco with the red tip, using no chemicals, and pounding away with straight cold water,” about 10 cars stopped to ask if he cleaned houses for a living, and if he could give them a quote.
A light went off, and soon after New Look Power Wash was born.
Carlos bought a cold-water unit from Home Depot, continued to borrow his neighbor’s ladders, and made homemade flyers using clip art he pulled from a floppy disc. Then he started going door to door around his neighborhood. “I told my neighbors I just wanted them to give me a shot. If they didn’t like the results, they didn’t have to pay.” And it worked.
He started out doing strictly residential. He “somewhat understood soaps” from following the industry bulletin boards such PT State and Pressure Washing Institute, back in the days before social media. He also upgraded to hot-water machine from Home Depot and added a trailer.
One thing Carlos had going for him was a strong website and SEO, which gave him a good Internet position. “Because of our website, the phones started taking off, and we became very busy in commercial virtually overnight.” Commercial became the natural direction that best fit his “entrepreneurial drive,” plus the pay was consistent.
Carlos found that a lot of area gas stations were looking someone who could clean the concrete without affecting their operations. That’s how he worked into the gas station niche, becoming the go-to company in the Bay area for those types of cleanings.
Soon, Carlos became a primary vendor for Chevron Corporation, which is headquartered in the Bay area. “That blew the gates wide open. I had a ton of work in front of me.” With Chevron, Carlos started serving accounts throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon. For around two years, Carlos would travel two weeks a month cleaning gas stations. “I’d leave, work nights while out of town, then sleep in cheap hotels or in my truck on the side of the highway.”
Keep in mind that Carlos has remained a sole proprietor, owner/operator since starting New Look over 20 years ago. While there was certainly enough work to justify hiring crews, it just didn’t fit his style of business. “I dipped my big toe into the employer category, and I didn’t like it. I’m a bulldog when it comes to washing, and I didn’t like having to babysit people.”
As a teen, Carlos lived with his last foster family — a “faith-based family” – for about four years, and they helped instill certain values into his life. “One of those values was that you never stop working until it’s done. That’s really been the theme behind New Look — we’ve always done exceptional work and I take pride in that.”
That did put some limits on how much work Carlos took on, as there are only so many properties he could clean on his own. However, working solo, he managed to gross over a quarter of a million dollars per year, with his highest year producing over $350,000.
And it also allowed him to position himself to sell his company at a good price with no regrets.