Staying in Touch with the Business of Their Dads
BILLERICA -- To make the business go, their fathers worked long hours, sons Doug MacLean and Nick Campisi remembered.
Sometimes Bob MacLean and Ron Campisi clocked three shifts in one day. For years, they went without a salary.
And when they finally got time off, after long days working side-by-side, they went on joint family vacations.
“To me it’s really just amazing they still wanted to spend their downtime together,” said Nick, Ron’s son.
Half a century later that delicate balance of friendship and business remains at the center of Shield System Car Wash, according to their sons, Doug and Nick.
“Because of their friendship, Doug and I grew up together,” said Nick. “It created that bond Doug and I have.”
Doug and Nick now co-own the business, which has five locations, including three on Boston Road in Billerica.
In 1968, their fathers and a third partner, Rick Zeoli -- all friends from Lexington High School -- decided to use what they learned through after-school gigs washing cars to form a full-time business.
Their first location opened at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, the current site of Alewife Station. They soon expanded to Brighton and over the years opened a number of car washes, including one in Rhode Island. The first location in Billerica opened in the late 1970s or 1980s, Nick and Doug said.
Today they have locations on 783 Main St. in Winchester, 365 Western Ave. in Brighton and three Billerica locations: 259 Boston Road, 455 Boston Road and 570 Boston Road.
Each of the three original owners had their own area of expertise, they said. Zeoli understood the technical part, which he taught to Nick before the business changed hands. Ron focused on customer service and marketing, while Bob handled legal and corporate decisions.
“They could all do everything, but they all had their own niche,” Nick said.
Business partnerships are often short lived, but in the case of the three founders, the partnership held strong until they retired in the 2000s, according to Nick and Doug. Today, of the three partners, only Ron Campisi is living.
The first generation of owners argued, sometimes heatedly, but not at the cost of their friendship, Nick and Doug said.
″(They were able) to separate their personal feelings to look at something objectively,” Doug said. “All the times I’ve seen that happen they’re always able to break things down for the better of the business and make the right decision.”
Though Nick and Doug both worked for the family business in high school, neither expected to one day run it.
Both went to college. Doug became an engineer for Sun Microsystems. Nick worked for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and was considering medical school.
However, as the owners looked to retire, the conversation turned to selling the business and Doug and Nick considered returning.
“Legacy is an important thing,” Doug said. “What would happen if we would sell is there would be no more shield system.”
He said a recent 50-year reunion that brought together the original owners’ families emphasized that bond. Several managers in the company have also worked at the business over 25 years, according to Doug.
After returning and working for the business for about five years -- starting at the lowest position -- Doug and Nick became owners in 2008.
Doug, 43, lives in Winchester and Nick, 39, lives in Andover.
Young and with bold ideas, Nick said they introduced several changes shortly after taking the reins. Some worked, some didn’t.
“In many ways we’ve come full circle in a lot of ways, which really speaks volumes to where they were ten, fifteen years ago.” Doug said.
Recently, the biggest change is the technology, according to Doug. They introduced an app, specifically made for the business where customers can order or gift car washes.
Soon, the app will also keep track of purchases to count toward loyalty points, Doug said. The owners also implemented a membership service, where a customer can purchase unlimited car washes each month, he said.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the business is offering half-priced washes with 50 cents donated to local rotary clubs on Sept. 12.
Today, the company has 28 employees, with about 6 based in Billerica.
Nick and Doug both have young children and though Nick said he hopes the business will continue after he retires, ensuring the business has a third generation isn’t a top priority right now.
“The great thing about our fathers is we didn’t feel like we were forced into the business in any way,” Nick said. “It was like go to college, pursue your passions, do whatever you want.”
They chose car washes.
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins