Paisley, a sleek black Labrador retriever, loves to roll in stinky stuff and swim in slimy lakes, but she is not as keen on the baths that come after her adventures.
On a frosty late winter evening, the dog stood quietly in a tub at Pet Wash 24, rolling her eyes and tucking her tail between her legs as her owner, Rebecca Bullock, gently massaged her body with a warm, soapy brush.
Bullock and Paisley have been regulars at the self-serve pet grooming center since it opened on Broad Street in Fuquay-Varina last May.
The pet wash operates like a car wash, vending a variety of pet shampoos, conditioners and warm water through a machine that accepts credit cards and cash. Nine dollars will fetch a 15-minute scrub, rinse and blow-dry, with time left over to hose down the service bays and tub.
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Business owner Harley Dietrich of Fuquay-Varina derived his inspiration for Pet Wash 24 more than a year ago when he was on his way to his hometown of Pittsburgh to visit his mother. His car broke down on I-95 in Richmond, Va., right in front of a car wash that had a pet washing facility attached to it.
“I never drive on I-95,” he said. “I can’t remember why I drove up the interstate on that day, but something led me along that path.”
The Richmond pet wash was filthy and in disrepair, he said, but underneath the grime lay a business concept that Dietrich believes he can use to change people’s lives.
Dietrich, 63, had been seeking a mission for his own life after he retired from a career in the technology industry during the recent recession. He had been a master sergeant in the Army and was deployed as a reservist in the Gulf War for nine months. He now works in sales with TigerDirect in Raleigh.
Married with three grown daughters and grandchildren, he stays busy, but he dreams of giving a dozen or more veterans a new lease on life, a job and a way to support their families by setting them up in the business.
For Dietrich, Pet Wash 24 is the ticket to fulfilling that dream.
“I want to build these facilities, make them successful and either lease them or sell them to veterans so they can have a business of their own,” he said while sitting in a spacious room behind the washing bays.
Dietrich funded Pet Wash 24 using his own money and personal credit. The business occupies a storefront space in a shopping center with a well-lit parking lot and a pizza delivery business that stays open late.
Even though the business is open 24 hours a day, the door is locked from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. A credit card swipe will unlock the facility, charging the customer $5.
Direct mail, face-to-face marketing and a popular Facebook page keep his customers connected and help him expand the business, which is doing well enough that Dietrich is planning to open a second location in the Harrison Point Plaza in Cary.
Dietrich stops by once a day to check on the place and to monitor the machines. Reports show the business is hosting about 300 washes each month.
“Some people wash their dogs once a month, some wash their dogs three times a month,” Dietrich said. “Others bathe weekly because they sleep with their dogs.”
When Paisley’s bath time was over, she wagged her tail as Bullock towel dried her and Dietrich handed over treats to reward her for being a good dog.
“I don’t really want to own a bunch of dog washes and operate them,” he said. “I just want to help people by making their lives easier – dog owners and veterans alike. This business gives me goals and a purpose to carry into my senior years.”
For a business that’s gone to the dogs, that’s a beautiful concept.
Reach Teri Saylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @terisaylor.