When Harley Dietrich Jr.’s car broke down in front of a dog-washing business in Pennsylvania last year, it was a light-bulb moment.
“In my mind, I was trying to figure out what to do,” Dietrich said of his desire to help veterans get back on their feet.
Dietrich, who retired from the Army after serving in Desert Storm, is active in the American Legion and participates in benefits for retired, homeless and disabled veterans.
“I wanted to do more,” he said. “I wanted to affect them more specifically than to just send money to a cause.”
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Within six months of his car troubles, Dietrich had designed, developed and opened the doors to Pet Wash 24, a self-serve pet-washing business in Fuquay-Varina.
His goal is to eventually turn the business over to a veteran and use the profits to begin another, setting off a chain of small-business openings with veterans at the helm.
“I’m planning to build 12 more in the next 10 years,” he said. “By then, I’ll be 73.”
Pet Wash 24 is unique in that it is unmanned. The doors automatically open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. The facility can be accessed during the remaining hours by using a credit card.
Once inside, pet owners find all they need to bathe their animal. Music plays in the background, and security cameras help ensure safety.
“People are loving the idea,” said Dietrich, who lives in Fuquay-Varina. “It’s an antiseptic environment that’s safe at any hour.”
He said he has had 255 customers – mostly dog-owners – since opening May 5. Some families come in for monthly repeat washes.
“We did have one monkey come in,” he said.
Dietrich, who works full time at electronics retailer TigerDirect, comes by Pet Wash 24 every evening to sweep up animal hair and make sure the facility is in good shape.
Pet Wash 24 occupies the front of the store. There is space in the back that Dietrich hopes to fill with a veteran who wants to start a pet-grooming business.
“The business is somewhat recession proof,” he said. “People will always take care of their pets, and I really believe this helps the users of the wash. And the veterans will benefit from it.
“This was created to effectively change the lives of individuals that we can change.”
Dietrich is careful to point out that Pet Wash 24 is not a beauty spa for pets.
“It’s meant to be a place to get the stink off a dog,” he said. “This isn’t where you detail your car. It’s for getting the grub off it.”
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