Patrick (Pat) Clark is a well-known name in the soft washing industry, and for good reason. Pat’s multi-million dollar company, Precision ProWash, has several locations located across the East Coast. He is also the founder of Gutter Butter (a company he runs with the help of his wife and four young children), a small business coach, and creator of the “Motivation Monday” Facebook video series.
While Pat’s success is impressive in and of itself, his story of how he got to that success is a real example of the American Dream. I’m excited to be the first to get to share it in print, starting this week, then finishing up next Monday.
A Humble Beginning
As a young child, Pat lived in a trailer park in Dover Plains, NY, with his grandma and his mom, who suffered from schizophrenia. “Mom didn’t want me to go out at night or be gone for long because she heard voices telling her someone was trying to kill me.” Pat’s father left when he was born and never had contact with Pat or his mom again.
At age 10, Pat’s grandma passed away, leaving Pat in charge of watching over his mom and keeping her out of trouble. For instance, he once had to run to rescue his mom from a man in the trailer park who was pointing a shotgun at her head for calling his African-American daughter a colorful name.
His mom received a small check from social security to pay the rent, then the rest went to food – primarily cereal and snacks – and cigarettes. “Kids would make fun of my house, and they didn’t like coming over. My mom would smoke a lot and the trailer had a buildup of cigarettes. A friend also witnessed that we once had very large slugs in our pantry.”
Pat’s mom kept him home from school a lot because Pat would get picked on for being in special ed and he would regularly get into fights. Early tests showed Pat had an IQ of just 56 (equivalent to mild mental retardation), but with all that was going on at home, the bigger problem was that he couldn’t stay focused or apply himself.
Then one day, when Pat was in the seventh grade, the school principal and two police officers showed up at his house, telling his mom to make him go to school or he would be sent to foster care. “I ended up punching the principal in the nose.”
A few days later, several police cars pulled up to the trailer park’s community center where Pat was playing basketball. The officer then escorted Pat to a white Chevy Cavalier – “you know, the kind social workers always drive” – and yes, a social worker was waiting for him. They were moving him to foster care. “My heart dropped.”
When the social worker drove him home, Pat found his mom fighting the officers. “I ran up and told my mom that it was going to be ok. This had to happen. Then I gave her a big hug. We were both crying, and both knew there was nothing we could do.” He was told to get a week’s worth of clothes, socks, and underwear, and then they took him away to an emergency foster home.
Entering the Foster System
Although Pat always had food to eat, it wasn’t healthy and he was malnourished. One of the first things they did when he arrived was try to make him eat. “I was in a new environment, scared, sad, and trying to figure things out. It suddenly felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest. I told them I didn’t feel good. That I might need help.” In reality, he was having a panic attack. But because he wouldn’t eat, he got in trouble and was sent to his room. That was the beginning of his month-long stay at a group foster home.
After a month, Pat was sent to his first foster home. “The dad looked like a biker dude – a large guy with a bald head and beard, and he had a bad shoulder.” Pat was immediately put to work, cleaning floors, doing laundry, building a fence. “I felt like a slave.”
When he started going back to school at his new home, his foster parents made him wear a buttoned-up shirt and nice pants with a belt. “Everyone would look at me weird and make fun of me. One guy even threw me up against a locker.” In another instance, Pat tried to make friends with the neighbor kid up the street. “He got some bamboo and just started hitting me. Things turned out bad.”
His foster parents weren’t much better. He got in big trouble for waking his foster mom from a nap because he’d gotten in some briars and was breaking out in a rash. Another time, his foster dad cracked the remote over his knuckles for changing the TV channel, and Pat’s hand hurt for days.
“Just the Dudes”
It took about four months, but Pat’s Uncle Rick gained custody of Pat, so he moved to Katona, NY, where he and his uncle shared a one-bedroom apartment.
Pat and Uncle Rick started having some “awesome times.” They’d go play pool almost every day at the American Legion Post 1575. They’d also eat TV dinners and hang out with their friend John, who owned the apartment – “just the dudes.” Uncle Rick encouraged Pat to make good grades, and Pat started doing better in school, even getting some awards for helping new kids get to class. He joined the football team, where he quickly became known as “Butter Fingers.” (“Yep, tight end wasn’t going to work out after all.”)
Pat also had his driver’s permit and a job working at the local grocery store. He saved up enough money to buy a Chevy Cavalier – and no, not the social service worker type. “This one was a blue, two-door RS, with a nice sound system. My friends all thought it was cool!”
However, Uncle Rick ‘s work as a carpenter started slowing down, and his drinking at the American Legion increased. Additionally, the apartment’s owner (John) passed away, and John’s daughter didn’t care much for Uncle Rick. She kicked Rick and Pat out, and they had no place to go except back to the trailer park with Pat’s mom, which was two hours away.
After returning to the trailer park, Pat would drive two hours to school alone with only a learner’s permit. He was falling asleep in class and his teachers found out what was going on. There was talk of sending him back to foster care.
When Pat found out he might go back into foster care, he told his uncle he was going to live with his friend Eric Sloss’s family. This made Uncle Rick, who had been heavily drinking, really mad. Pat tried to get to his car to leave, but his uncle chased him. Afraid of his uncle, Pat punched him in the stomach, then jumped in his car and accidentally ran over Uncle Rick’s leg.
“It started to pour like I’ve never seen. I was speeding 80 miles per hour through the park, hitting curbs, not stopping at stop signs. Thinking I just ran my uncle over and I was going to jail, I didn’t care if I died.” (Rick was actually not injured by the incident.)
Unable to see clearly and crying over everything that had just happened, Pat started driving to the Sloss’s house, which was about 30 minutes away. “I was going around a corner, not five minutes from their house, when my car went sideways past a ‘slippery when wet’ sign. I remember seeing two headlights pointed right at my driver-side door and the fear in the lady’s eyes.” Pat closed his eyes and punched the gas, heading straight for a rock wall and a row of large trees.
“I still to this day do not know how I missed the wall and the trees, but God was watching over me and had greater plans in store.”
The Sloss family was granted guardianship of Pat and his mom moved to a mental health facility. His Uncle Rick — who was not actually injured by Pat’s car — died not too long later from cirrossis of the liver. Pat was the one to find him lying face down on his bloodied trailer floor. It was a huge loss. “I never got to say I love you and I was sorry. He never had kids and did the best he could. He did a lot to help my mom and me. He taught me a lot growing up.”
A New Beginning
By now, Pat was in 11th grade, going to high school, and going to church with the Sloss family.
Pat needed a job, so he’d stop by Eddie’s Auto Repair every day to ask if Eddie was hiring. One day, Pat asked if he could clean the parking lot, and Eddie gave him the ok. “I cleaned that parking lot like no other.” Because Pat did such a great job, the next day Eddie asked if he wanted to paint all the curbs red. Soon, Pat was pumping gas, checking oil, and putting license plate covers with Eddie’s logo on them on every care that came through. “That was my marketing idea.”
Pat finished high school, and decided to follow an amazing girl named Shielagh who he’d met at church to college. Pat attended Bob Jones University for one year with plans to become an auto mechanic. “I almost failed!” Then he proposed to Shielagh on a rock by the Hudson River. “Man, did my dreams come true that day when she said yes!”
The newlyweds decided to move down to South Carolina because it was cheaper and a lot warmer than New York. Pat had a job lined up with a friend whose dad owned a home construction company. “I did whatever needed done. I was making $500 a week, and had a kid on the way.”
Then one day, Pat noticed the painter was pressure washing the houses right before they went on the market. He asked his boss if he could wash them instead and would charge $100 per house. Pat bought a Dodge truck with an 8-foot bed and a “little red pressure washer,” then started washing two houses per week for extra cash. “These houses would take my wife and me eight hours to clean in those days.”
Pat also started washing his boss’s trucks as well, which led to an idea: mobile auto detailing. “No one that I knew of was doing it in our area.” So Pat put a water tank in the back of his truck and would gravity feed his pressure washer to wash cars. He also bought a long hose for his shop vac. “I designed my own flyers and started looking online and at YouTube to learn how to buff, etc.”
In 2007, the economy was going down, and the construction company he worked for went out of business. Pat turned full time to mobile auto detailing to try to make ends meet. Pat admits he didn’t know much about washing, and knew even less about running a business.
“Never, Never, Never Give Up!
The year 2009 was tough for the Clarks. They debated throwing in the towel on the business altogether. Shielagh said she remembers how scared she felt when she realized there was no money to buy groceries.
That week, Pat heard a Winston Churchill quote on the radio: “Never, never, never give up!” That same week, he saw the quote in a magazine, and his mom, oblivious to his struggles, gave him a plaque she had found at a thrift store with that same quote on it.
Confident that the Lord wanted them to stick it out, they trudged along with the business.
In 2010, Pat and Shielagh decided to attend an industry round table hoping to find the missing ingredient. They couldn’t afford the hotel, so they placed a mattress in the back of their Astrovan and slept there. “Some people were kind enough to let us come shower and get cleaned up in their room.”
That’s where he first heard about soft washing and roof cleaning. It’s also where he met AC Lockyer of Softwash Systems, who had just started a consulting business.
Pat decided to hire him. “I didn’t know how we were going to pay him. We were living off of rice and beans. My office was in a closet. We couldn’t afford to pay our electric bill. But I knew I needed to learn, so we skimped and saved.”
On December 15th, when AC came to Pat’s home, Pat turned to him and said, “That was my last $4,000. Where do we go from here?”
Little could he have dreamed where that leap of faith would land him.
Click Here to Read Part 2