By Audrey Selley
Wiping sweat from his forehead, Bruce Tucker laughs as he scrubs dirt off the windshield of a Mazda3 sedan. His older brother Tom laughs back from the other side of the car where he meticulously sprays and wipes the windows like he’s polishing a trophy.
It’s a Wednesday close to closing time at Carolina Car Wash And Detail in Carrboro, which sits right on the corner of Brewer Lane and East Main Street. Alongside the co-managers, Bruce and Tom, is the usual team of employees, including Chello Hernandez. Hernandez has been working at the car wash for 15 years, exactly the age of her daughter, Donna, who comes back from school just as the sedan is engulfed by the mechanical scrubber cylinders.
Donna greeted Bruce and Tom’s 85-year-old mother, Willey D. Tucker, behind the register just as Bruce walked into the lobby.
“Donna! How was your quinceañera?” Bruce asked.
To Bruce, his employees are extended family. He’s lived with them through their ups and downs. He has watched as their kids grew up and learned how to ride a bike, and even as they got their first job— which, for a few of them, was at the car wash itself.
However, it’s not exactly like Bruce needs more family in his life. He grew up with 11 siblings on the west side of Chicago with his mom. Although they had just enough money to keep the lights on, it was a golden childhood. It was one where school clothes were immediately changed into play clothes when they came home.
They would play cops and robbers, tag and kickball until dark, waiting just long enough until their mother would whoop their butts for not being home by dinner. On weekends, they’d all squeeze into a station wagon and visit their grandparents, who also lived in Chicago.
“Those were the good old days,” Bruce said. “Some people can’t imagine having 11 siblings, but it was one of the most beautiful experiences I could imagine.”
Carolina Car Wash and Detail
When a 25-year-old Tom bought Carolina Car Wash and Detail in 1997 and called Bruce, 23, to ask him to help with the business, Bruce didn’t want to. He was living his best life, constantly traveling as a project engineer for the United States Postal Service and golfing on his days off.
Three weeks later, he was in Carrboro learning how to put on a proper coat of Chemical Guys Extreme Bodywash & Wax— family is family. Even though he would curse out his siblings in a heartbeat, he would even more quickly uproot his life for them.
“It was so hard to sacrifice that; I was at the peak of my career. But Tom needed someone to help out, and I was one of the only siblings who could,” Bruce said.
Tom’s purchase of Carolina Car Wash and Detail coincides with his founding of Peregrine 9, a real estate development company based in North Carolina. As Tom began working towards his goals of expanding throughout the southeastern United States, Bruce stepped up as co-manager of the car wash to handle the day-to-day operations.
But beyond the real estate incentive, Tom bought the business to give his mother a job where she didn’t have to stand all the time. Despite the gentle urging of Tom and Bruce for her to take some time off, 25 years later, she still greets customers behind the register every day.
Their mother has always supported her children. Throughout their childhood, she somehow managed to keep all 12 of her kids busy with museum trips, summer camps and sports teams.
“She’s always been our biggest fan; she would do anything for us,” Tom said.
Working with his mom every day is his favorite part, but only as long as he remembers she will always be the boss, he said laughing.
In fact, Bruce not-so-jokingly jokes that their faithful customer base is because of Willey D. Her smile would make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. Her motherly advice has calmed generations of UNC-Chapel Hill students, and her impressively deep breadth of sports knowledge has engaged customers like former UNC-CH men’s basketball coach Dean Smith and current coach Hubert Davis.
“We actually thought about getting her picture on the side of a city bus because there are so many people that know her,” Bruce said.
The brothers also believe that they have an opportunity and responsibility to impact the community around them. Tom served as the president of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, which advocates for policies and projects to support businesses. In addition, Tom serves on the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory, which was created in response to the increasing gentrification in the historically Black Northside neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
In terms of their business philosophy, the brothers aren’t trying to squeeze every cent out of their customers. They would rather spend their time providing quality service and ensuring the happiness of their customers, Tom said.
Their upbringing taught them that it’s not about having all the money in the world. Bruce said at the end of the day, they want to focus on what’s most important, cultivating relationships with their customers.
He will surprise customers with a free car wash if they are having a particularly bad day and gives away complimentary car washes to local schools and charities as well. Beyond the car wash, Bruce loves engaging with the customers and swapping life stories.
“If we send customers out of here with that warm and fuzzy feeling, and they feel good about everything that happened,” said Bruce. “I’m just convinced that that’s going to replicate itself, and it’s gonna repeat and pay itself forward.”
To Bruce, a successful business only means one thing:
“Our family is growing.”
Edited by Chloe Teachey and Collin Tadlock