Pastor. Husband. Father. Entrepreneur.
John Suggs of Clean Stripe in Howe, Texas, holds many titles, but one he never expected to have is that of disabled veteran. However, sometimes life takes unplanned twists and turns. John’s happened to lead him to pressure washing and a dream of eventually helping other veterans get back on their feet. And PowerWashU’s Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Boot Camp is playing an important role in John’s journey.
In 2004, after graduating from high school, John shipped out for the U.S. Marine Corps and was soon screened for the Honor Guard in Washington D.C., where he served for two years. “Coming from a small country town in Texas with no gas station for 30 miles, moving to D.C. was quite a culture shock,” he explained.
Two years later, John and his wife moved to Camp Lejeune, NC. While getting ready to deploy, some minor back problems became major back problems, and he was eventually medically retired from the Marine Corp.
The Suggs moved back to Texas, where John worked in the home building and mechanical contractor field until he felt called to attend seminary in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2010. After completing both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Pastoral Ministry in just four years, the Suggs family returned to north Texas where John now pastors a small church. Needing to support his wife and four children, John returned to contracting work. Only his back problems made this line of work difficult.
In the meantime, one of John’s close friends who was a sales manager for a local Hotsy dealership also did power washing and line striping on the side. “I began helping him clean and stripe, and his business started to grow.” When John’s friend eventually moved to Missouri, John opened his own business under the name of Clean Stripe and kept his friend’s customer accounts, which focused primarily on commercial flatwork cleaning, striping, and eventually seal coating.
Until this past year, Clean Stripe was a part-time business, but in 2017 John decided he was ready to take the company to the next level. However, to do that, he knew he needed to diversify. “My plan is to have a small customer base but offer multiple services,” he explained. “Between my family, my role as a pastor, mission trips, and recent surgery, I am not in a position to be able to travel extensively to clean.” In fact, the only commercial customer that he’s lost to date was part of a large corporate chain that moved to a big regional contract. “That type of setup didn’t work for a local guy like me.”
John added that in his local community, he isn’t working with faceless corporate representatives. “Business owners in my area want to build relationships with their service providers, and they love working with a locally-owned, disabled veteran business.”
That being said, however, he found himself being asked about offering kitchen exhaust cleaning (KEC) services, either from his existing customers or when talking with potential clients. And so this past spring, John decided it was time to get trained and become KEC certified.
John began researching KEC training and certification programs, ultimately deciding to attend the PowerWashU KEC Boot Camp in Fort Worth. The course provided five full days of hands-on training and interactive instruction based on the NFPA-96 International Fire and Mechanical Code and OSHA regulations, as well as Phil Ackland Certification Testing.
“I looked into another program, but really liked that the PowerWashU course not only provided on-the-job training, it also covered a lot more than just how to clean,” John explained. “Some of the attendees had no idea about power washers at all, so this was a really good way for them to learn. But even though I’ve been cleaning for a few years now, I learned a lot. It was a very thorough course.”
Specifically, the class covered a variety of topics both on how to clean as well as how to successfully run a profitable business. “Being in the military and then later in seminary, I have been through a lot of classes and training. This was really top-tiered education,” John explained. “The class was very thorough and covered a lot of topics that went beyond cleaning. Things like how to get hold of decision makers, a comparison of the bare minimum equipment needs versus the ideal setup, and how to sell by educating your customers. Also, even though it was taught through PowerWash.com, they didn’t just push their own products. In fact, one of the tools I use most often is a scraper that they told me about that PowerWash.com doesn’t even carry.”
Led by Trey Posey, the class also included hands-on training and cleaning three types of restaurants with different setups. After the class ended, John also went out with a team to learn how to clean a Chinese restaurant. “Just getting to hang out after hours and talk with Trey Posey and the PowerWashU team were some of the best parts of attending the class.”
However, John’s relationship with Trey didn’t stop just because the class was over. “I actually talk to Trey about every other week. I’m not afraid to tackle tough jobs and do things not covered in the class if I have some direction, and Trey has been great at helping guide me through new experiences,” he added.
Before the class, Clean Stripe brought in around $50,000 per year. Since taking the class, Clean Stripe has increased to “well over six figures” in sales, with more than half of that coming from kitchen exhaust cleaning. “It’s absolutely outrageous how many doors have been opened since attending the PowerWashU Boot Camp and becoming certified.”
As an example, before taking the class, one of the accounts that Suggs had been trying to close was a local hospital that has 17,000-square-feet of flatwork that needed to be cleaned every month. Shortly after gaining his Phil Ackland certification, John inspected the hospital’s hoods and found they were not in compliance with fire codes. “They had an awful setup but had never been told they had a problem.” He not only got the cleaning contract – which included the hoods as well as the flatwork – he has since gotten four other hospitals because of his training and certification. One hospital has also asked him to clean the floors of their kitchen area.
“Hood cleaning is definitely filling in a hole in our services. During the course, Trey pointed out that hood cleaning opens doors for other services, and it certainly has for me. Hood cleaning has led to multiple contracts for other services that we offer like flatwork, line striping, and several seal coating jobs.”
Another example, John approached a local restaurant owner who had been in business for over 20 years and had always cleaned his hoods himself. Being able to use the correct terminology, which he learned during the boot camp, John was able to educate the restaurant owner and in turn, close the sale based on codes and compliance.
“If someone wants to get into kitchen exhaust cleaning, they really need to understand what they are getting into and they need to get certified,” he added. “There are national codes that you must follow. If you don’t comply with those regulations, you can be found liable. That, in itself, is enough of a reason to take the course.”
Finally, adding KEC services has provided Clean Stripe with that steady, regular work that he desired – so much so that he has since hired an employee and may add a second in 2018. This is helping John move toward his ultimate goal. “I really want to grow my business to a point where I can employ other veterans to help them get their life on track, the same way that Clean Stripe has helped me and my family.”