By Rod Lee
As his good fortune in the business world would have it, Brian Fitzgerald latched onto exactly the right person to assume proprietorship of Fitzy’s Car and Pet Wash on Worcester St. in North Grafton just under three years ago.
Christopher J. Ouimet of Shrewsbury has carried forward in sterling fashion Mr. Fitzgerald’s vision of what a top-of-the-line car wash with all of the bells and whistles should be. Mr. Fitzgerald has moved on to other projects, but he still drops by and he must like what he sees. As already-compromised car washes in the area fall to ruin, are abandoned, or are sold and turned into different enterprises, Fitzy’s stands almost alone for offering a completely satisfactory experience to its patrons.
A customer who drives a black Mercedes S Class that carried a sticker price in excess of two hundred thousand dollars is a prime example of appreciation for Fitzy’s, Mr. Ouimet said during a conversation in his office the morning of September 9.
“We get high-end customers like him,” he said. The man approached Mr. Ouimet with a critical eye, and questions, as he considered whether to have his automobile washed at Fitzy’s. He was determined to “get an education” before committing to becoming a client. As for Mr. Ouimet, he admits to feeling a little apprehension of his own. Now, however, the man is “my every-Saturday customer,” he said, with noticeable pride in his voice.
In several regards, Chris Ouimet would seem like the least likely new steward of the state-of-the-art facility and sparkling grounds that Mr. Fitzgerald developed on the site more than four decades ago.
“I wasn’t a customer,” Mr. Ouimet said. “I washed my car in my driveway. But we had years of discussions. I talked about my crazy world and he talked about his.”
They first became acquainted because “both of our daughters were equestrians,” Mr. Ouimet said. “We let his daughter borrow a horse for a show and we got to be friends. Brian was looking to transition and I was retiring from finance” (Mr. Ouimet had worked as a semiconductor engineer, then in money, including investment banking).
Mr. Ouimet was impressed with “the yard, the landscaping and the cleanliness” of Fitzy’s—arguably one of the town of Grafton’s most pristinely-kept commercial properties. “But the whole on-site experience. Having that quality is what drives me. At fifty-six, I was looking for something that was part of a community. This business is truly a cornerstone in Grafton.
“Certainly Brian was a visionary,” he said. “He didn’t go the cookie-cutter route, a one-wash system.” In taking over, Mr. Ouimet has been careful to stay true to Mr. Fitzgerald’s “brand” while implementing “some add-ons” by way of “aesthetics, new technology that will make it touchless, and ceramic coating of vehicles ‘in line in the tunnel.’”
A “VIP program, like the airlines use, rewarding customers for their loyalty,” is a staple at Fitzy’s these days.
Express interior cleaning, pre-paid gift cards, self-service bays, vacuums that work and promotions and discounts are evidence that Fitzy’s has it all going on.
Like so many others, Mr. Ouimet’s business was mostly shut down by Covid-19. “We still maintained touchless, and got pushback from the town on that.” Fitzy’s he said.
When Fitzy’s reopened in late May, “the customers came back, hitting their horns, waving, they were happy to be back.”
Working “seven days a week, twelve hours a day, it gets tiring,” Mr. Ouimet said. But the rewards are worth it. “I’m not a Fitzy,” he said. He derives satisfaction, however, from continuing “a great tradition, with a great following.” For that reason, “I am not going to rebrand” the product.
Chris Ouimet’s workforce of ten or so now includes other members of the Ouimet family. Daughters Ashley and Lyndsey and his wife Michelle are part of the team.
The girls will strengthen the business’s social-media presence.
“My wife is the towel person,” he says. “She makes sure the kids fold them correctly.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.