Mother's Day Tribute: When Tragedy Struck; Sarah Gabbard Kept Her Husband's Business Going to Show Her Daughters What Strength Is

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          No one would have blamed Sarah Gabbard if she had curled up in her house with her two young girls and done nothing for a very long time. In fact, most people would have expected it. Come to think of it, if they found themselves in the same situation as the now 39-year-old found herself in almost four years ago, most would have done the exact same thing. But they don't know Sarah Gabbard.

          Gabbard was leading a "very normal life" in her words on May 28, 2015. She was married to her high school sweetheart, Chad, who owned a thriving industrial cleaning company with two locations that he had started while in college with nothing more than a weed eater and a pressure washer. The couple had two girls, Olivia and Ava, and Sarah worked as a speech-language pathologist in the local school district. "It was crazy how successful Chad's business became," Gabbard said. "I always admired what he had done but I was too scared to do something like that for myself, so I chose the comfortable, safe 9-to-5 approach."

Chad had been traveling for business that May day and had stayed at a condo the couple owned in Lexington the previous night. Sarah was having trouble reaching Chad by phone and immediately felt a sense of foreboding. "I knew something was wrong. I could just feel it," she said. "I can't explain it, but I just felt like someone had punched me in the gut." Sarah jumped in her car and drove to the condo, where she found Chad had passed away from a congenital AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation), which is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, usually in the brain or spine. If they rupture, they cause bleeding in the brain. Brain AVMs occur in less than one percent of the population. Chad was 36 years old in perfect health and had never experienced any symptoms.

          Looking back, Sarah has little memory of the weeks and events that followed Chad's death. "I feel like it was God protecting me from what had just taken place," Gabbard said. "The next few weeks were a whirlwind. I had to deal with not only the personal side of just losing my husband, but I also had to figure out what to do with a business that had 30 employees and two locations."

          Though she now faced the daunting task of having to make so many critical decisions on her own, Gabbard was steadfast on one matter. She was holding onto Chad's business no matter what, even though she had several offers to sell. "I can't explain why, but I just couldn't imagine not having this business in our lives anymore, and for my daughters, even though I had ZERO experience with industrial cleaning," Gabbard said. "Again, I can't explain it. It was just my gut feeling."

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Olivia, Sarah and Ava Gabbard

          However, Gabbard quickly discovered there was no such thing as hitting the "pause button" when faced with the daily challenges of running a small business in eastern Kentucky. For seasonal businesses such as Chad's, winters are notoriously slow. "Work just seemed to come to a screeching halt. I couldn't stand it and felt like we were losing so much money by just being idle," Gabbard said. "I knew we had to find something to occupy the guys over the winter."

          One of Gabbard's employees, Josh, was diligent in researching business opportunities, though she said with a grin, "many of his suggestions were terrible and we still laugh about it to this day." But Josh more than made up for all his misses when he came upon an online advertisement for Paul Davis Restoration, one of the most trusted brands in the insurance restoration industry and a company that has been at the forefront of innovation in the property damage, emergency services and restoration industry since 1966. "It looked like the perfect fit and work that we could easily handle," Gabbard said.

          While slow and steady might work for some, that's never been Gabbard's mindset. After contacting the corporate office, Gabbard and Josh were on a plane to Jacksonville, Fla., a week later to attend Discovery Day at Paul Davis. While there, Gabbard met other prospective franchisees, many of whom got a good chuckle when learning how much time she had spent doing her "homework" on the company. "They had researched this company for months, and here I was a week after hearing the Paul Davis name for the first time. It was hysterical to see their faces when they would ask me how long I had been looking at this franchise opportunity and I would reply, 'seven days.' I have no doubt they thought I was crazy," Gabbard said.

          But while some individuals might need the reassurance of reams of research to make an important decision, Gabbard once again relied on an instinct that has never failed her. "I loved what I saw when I was in Jacksonville. It felt like the perfect fit," Gabbard said. "I wanted to buy in that very day. I just knew."

          Gabbard knew and she was right. Again. Almost 3 years have passed since Paul Davis River Cities launched operations in September 2016, covering large portions of eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio and southern West Virginia from its home base in Worthington, Ky.

With more than 375 locations in the US and Canada, Paul Davis is continually growing. Though it remains a largely male-dominated industry, husband-and-wife teams and women are finding that a Paul Davis franchise can be a perfect fit for their particular needs. But that didn't mean Gabbard didn't run into outside naysayers who questioned whether she would be a good fit for the restoration industry, even though Paul Davis welcomed her with open arms and made her feel like family.  "I was told an insane amount of times that 'I couldn't do this' or 'this wasn't a job for a woman,'" Gabbard said. "I had so many people try and talk me into going back into speech therapy because it was the safe choice. That only made me want to become a Paul Davis franchisee even more. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire!"

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Ava, Sarah and Olivia Gabbard

Since its launch, Paul Davis River Cities has gone from initially providing only mitigation services to becoming a full-service restoration company. Obviously not one who relishes idle time, Gabbard also bought a pest control franchise while making sure the company Chad had founded - Pressure Tech Inc. - continued to prosper. Finally having the chance to reflect on the path she has taken over these last few years, Gabbard feels she has lived up to the expectations she set for herself when it came to raising Olivia and Ava - even if it was a whirlwind at times.

"The crazier it got, the more I enjoyed it. I loved the chaos and not knowing what each day would bring. I was still trying to be a regular mom at the same time and I still say that my girls were the driving force behind me wanting to take on so much at once," Gabbard said. "It was very important to me that they had the same security they felt when Chad was still here. I wanted them to know that their mom could handle it and we were going to be just fine. 

I wholeheartedly think Pressure Tech and Paul Davis saved my life. As dramatic as that sounds, I found a love for being an entrepreneur that I never knew I had. These businesses made me get out of bed in the morning when I could have easily made the decision not to and no one would have blamed me."

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rhonda Sanderson published on May 9, 2019 1:09 PM.

Manufacturing Expert Brings Number One Home Inspection Company to Greater Atlanta Area was the previous entry in this blog.

For All Those Who have Served: A Memorial Day Tribute to Veteran Franchisees is the next entry in this blog.

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