In 1932, John D. Clark began Prudential Overall Supply to clean shop rags and linen.
Now, 88 years later, the Irvine-based company has 1,944 employees in 35 facilities across the country, generating about $200 million annually in sales.
What’s the secret to the company’s longevity?
“It’s really trying to be fair and honest and provide a quality service that our customers respect,” said Chief Executive John Clark, grandson of the founder.
Because of that endurance, Prudential Overall Supply won the Business Journal’s annual award for longevity, one of five winners of the Family-Owned Business Awards on Oct. 7 (see stories, pages 1, 4, and 6.)
When Jeffrey M. Verdon, managing partner of the Jeffrey M. Verdon Law Group, presented the award in a virtual event, John Clark said, “It’s a great honor for the organization and for the Clark family that started this organization 88 years ago.”
John D. Clark was one of eight children growing up in Iowa where he didn’t see much opportunity. So he headed west, deciding on California, which then was the land of “blossoming opportunities.”
He traded in his Model A Ford Sports Roadster for a used truck to start his own uniform laundry service company based in Los Angeles for workers who were unable to properly care for their uniforms. He called his business “Prudential Laundry,” thinking that the name suggested strength and character.
Within seven years, Clark had moved his company from a small shed to a 22,000-square-foot facility.
It truly became a family business.
His parents, Garnette and John Orr Clark, left Iowa to join their son’s business in California. Other siblings also came onboard such as Bernice Clark Shoberg who became special projects manager, Frank Clark who was general manager of the company’s Chula Vista plant and Don Clark, who joined Prudential in 1960 after coaching at the University of Southern California. Don Clark served as president of Prudential from 1972-1984, when he became chairman until he passed away in 1989.
Founder John D. Clark was still serving as chairman emeritus and coming into the office nearly every day when he died at age 82 in 1991. His son Dan Clark became CEO in 1989.
Dan’s son John, began working summers as a teenager in the company’s production facility processing uniforms, cleaning and folding towels and linens for restaurants and uniform accounts.
John Clark formerly joined the company full-time in 2006 as a business system analyst and then transitioned to implementing the company’s new route accounting software. In 2009, he became a sales & service manager and in 2011, became the general manager for the company’s Irvine plant location. In 2015 John assumed a regional manager position where he was responsible for meeting the P&L responsibilities for multiple operating units.
The 38-year-old John Clark was named CEO this year with his father Dan becoming chairman of the board.
Challenging First Year
His first year on the hot seat has been challenging.
When the coronavirus struck, the company’s sales “definitely took a hit,” falling about 15%. Since then, it has slowly rebounded month by month, which Clark said he expects to continue. Revenue will be near last year’s total.
Nowadays, Prudential provides over 28,000 customers with uniform rental services and related supplies through a network of 35 operating locations throughout the United States. About 200 of its employees work in its Irvine facilities.
From a single shirt-press and three pant presses during the 1940s, Prudential has advanced to 1,200-pound washer extractors, each equal to 120 home washing machines. Increasingly high-tech equipment includes industrial-sized dryers, shirt presses and mop cleaning systems, all required to comply with strict state and federal environmental regulations.
Its website lists eight different sectors, from apparel services to facility services to cleanrooms.
One of its bigger revenue generators is industrial, where it cleans uniforms for thousands of customers from food processors to automotive dealer employees—“just anybody you see in a uniform.”
“There are thousands of employees who have to put on a uniform either to protect them or for image of the company,” Clark said.
Another big unit is its clean room where uniforms are decontaminated after usage in industries such as bioscience, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. The uniforms must be completely free of dust so employees can work in labs that make chips, medicine or other sensitive products.
“We service huge brands, but I cannot tell you those names,” he said.
Prudential’s website said it currently serves 110 Fortune 500 companies.
The Prudential roster includes more than 300 customers that have utilized the company’s services for more than 35 years.
The company’s secret to success can be found in its motto, Clark said.
“Tell the customer exactly what we can and cannot do,” he said. “Then, do everything we have promised and expect a fair price for our services. If we all do this, we will grow, retain our customers and prosper.”
Prudential is actively involved in the communities it serves. John Clark continues the Clark family’s support of the Tustin-based Prentice School, a private K-8 school for students with dyslexia and other related challenges. John was a student at the school.
He’s also involved with supporting the industry’s largest professional trade organization, Textile Rental Service Association (TRSA).
Interestingly for the head of a family owned business, he’s part of a Next Generation Workshop that addresses issues such as family business dynamics, general business strategies, strategic planning and multi-generational workforce.
Nowadays, there are plenty of stories about children who don’t want to follow their parents into the family business. Why did Clark choose this path?
“I really respect the history of the organization and the employees,” he said. “I really enjoy the challenge that our industry faces, the challenge of business.”
He has three children under the age of six, so he hasn’t brought up the subject yet of whether they’ll be working in the family business.
They already like one particular thing about Prudential.
“My kids do like coming in to work because they get access to the vending machines.”