To Russell Parker, 59, success and size are not synonymous. How many employees does he have? Three, though he laughs and corrects himself. “Well, I guess you could say two. I love work and I get out there with them.”
Clean Touch is typical of sole proprietorships that, according to N.C. Department of Labor statistics, employ more than a half-million Tar Heels. Less typical might be its 25-year longevity and the enthusiasm of its founder, a native of tiny Fountain in Pitt County.
“I love to see something dirty, and when I finish, I stand back and say, ‘Wow!’” he says.
Since 2010, he’s been president of the Minority Business Roundtable in Greenville, coaching less experienced owners on how to land contracts with government agencies, businesses and other customers such as homeowners. He also served as a military policeman in the N.C. National Guard for 24 years.
Clean Touch’s early customers included the Greenville Housing Authority and Pitt Memorial Hospital (now Vidant Medical Center). As his reputation grew, Russell added trucking and charter-bus companies, owners of high-end cars and many others. A specialty is church steeples, which required study in how to work with brick.
Meanwhile, commercial and residential buildings have scores of different sidings, all with specific pressure-washing materials and equipment necessary to prevent damage. Cars, heavy commercial trucks, recreational vehicles and charter jets also use different coatings requiring special handling.
Parker’s training began before he started the business. “I came from a family of mechanics, and when they’d finished working on a car, they’d clean it up before sending it back. I learned about cleaning cars when I was 8 or 9 years old.”
Cars have changed over the past 50 years, but Parker says a key element of small-business survival hasn’t. “Determination,” he says.