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Bubbas Bubbles

posted Jeff Zarling on 19 June 2017
Bubbas Bubbles
To know David Hill is to know him as Bubba. Bubba is a gregarious, fun-loving man. He’s also a ‘get-to-the-point’ business man who likes to seize opportunities when he sees them. In 2008, he pulled the trigger on the purchase of the Village Laundry and Wash House that provided wash and fold as well as coin-operated laundry services.

Since then, the family-owned business has invested significantly in new equipment and facilities; expanded into car washes, pet washes and auto detailing services; and Bubba has cheated death while the family and business have persevered.

From the Delta to the Desert

Talking to Bubba, you surmise quickly he’s not from around here. He was born and raised a cotton farmer in the Arkansas Delta region near a town called Marvell. He was around the family farmstead until the age of twelve when his dad moved the family to Arizona where the climate favored the elder’s emphysema.

Hill graduated from high school in Tempe, Arizona and soon after married his high school sweetheart, Kirsten. He attended Arizona State University and graduated with a degree in Agribusiness with a minor in Management and Marketing. While in college, he interned for Ciba-Geigy, a multinational agrichemical and pharmaceutical company.

Wheat and the Upper Midwest

Upon completing his education, Hill went to work for Ciba-Geigy. “They had a full-time job open in Billings, Montana. Given my farming background in cotton, they asked me ‘what do you know about wheat?’” relates Hill. “I know you make bread out of it’ I said. I was hired.”

Hill moved his family to Billings in December to be an Ag-Chem sales representative. “I was in the Salt Lake airport and struck up a conversation with a guy. His response was ‘You’re going the wrong way.’”

His territory comprised two-thirds of Montana and all of Wyoming. “I grew that market from nothing to something and later my boss suggested I apply for a promotion.” He wasn’t quite ready to move up but the boss assured him that it is a process and he should give it a shot.

Upward Mobility

Hill went to Des Moines, Iowa for an extensive interview process with a number of other candidates. “They were laying it on thick,” he explains. “I finally cut to the chase and asked them ‘What do you need, guys?’ and they laid it out. ‘I can do that.’ I explained.” They let everyone else go home and promoted me to Key Territory Representative for the Nebraska region.”

Things went well but Hill  did not want to make the move to District Manager. He preferred to be connected with the Ag producers. “I called up my old boss from the Montana days,” relates Hill. “They were opening up a new territory in the MonDak region. We moved to Williston in 1992.”

He enjoyed success over the next decade plus, growing the territory from $50 thousand in volume to over $20 million. The company merged with Sandoz in 1996 becoming Novartis and later divested its agrochemical and genetically modified crops business in 2000 with the spinout of Syngenta in partnership with AstraZeneca.

Laundry Calling

One of Hill’s customers in Minot owned a coin laundry business and he thought it would make a nice side business after retiring from Syngenta. Additionally, one of his friends back home in Arkansas owned two coin laundry businesses. The idea of the laundry business continued to linger in his mind.

In the meantime, Hill’s grandfather passed away in 2005 so he took over the family farm. He brought back the rented acres and began farming corn, beans, and wheat. At the same time, he had a small cattle operation going in Montana.

But he couldn’t escape thoughts of the laundry business. “One day I was visiting with Butch, a friend of mine in Williston, and asked him who owns the Village Laundry” Hill reflects. “He said he knew the guy and that he was thinking of selling and moving to Bismarck. We bought them on 8/8/2008.”

“I thought it would a good business for my wife and daughter as well as a great retirement business when I was done with Syngenta,” explains Hill when asked why he got into the laundry business. “You can’t buy it on the Internet and people need clean clothes. We could see the market demand.”

Investment and Expansion

The next six years would be an endless tornado of activity comprised of equipment upgrades, facility renovations, building construction and service expansion during record breaking economic activity in the Williston area. “My grandpa told me, ‘Son, take whatever God gives you and make it better,’” says Hill.

Investment started immediately with an addition to the 2nd Ave. W. location formerly known as the Wash House. They installed new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and laundry machines. After the new phase was completed, the old side was given the same treatment and the whole place was painted inside and out.

The Village Laundry location where coin-operated laundry services were provided alongside professional wash, dry and fold services was given a similar makeover in phases. “Even with the renovations and upgrades the current business was not sustainable in that facility,” explains Hill. “In late 2009 and early 2010 we began to develop a vision for the new Village Laundry.”

“We attended an industry show in Vegas to learn more about the available systems, equipment and best practices. We evaluated the best water heating and management options, designed the machine layouts including dedicated machines for greasers (a term used for oilfield work clothes) separate from regulars, and thought through all aspects of the business,” said Hill.

In early 2010, the land was acquired and the new Village Laundry opened by December. After moving the professional laundry services to the new location, improvements were completed at the old location and it was converted to strictly coin-operated laundry.

Bubba’s Brand is Born

With the Village Laundry move, the old location needed a name. Bubba’s Bubbles was floated as an ode to Hill’s longtime nickname, which he resisted. After some convincing, the name took hold and both coin laundries adorned the new brand.

The growth of the business coupled with other factors led Hill to leave Syngenta in 2010 to focus full-time on Bubba’s Bubbles. He later sold the family farm as well as the cattle operation, focusing solely on the laundry business.

Expansion into Car Washes

In 2011, they acquired the old AJAX car wash adjacent to the 26th Street Bubba’s Bubbles coin-laundry. The facility was completely gutted and renovated with new in-floor heat, equipment, vacuums, pet wash and a concrete parking lot to replace the old notorious mud hole. 

In 2013, planning began to expand the car wash business to automatics. Plans for the new car wash focused on the best systems, equipment and detergents. Damian Narcisse, Hill’s son-in-law, joined the business in May of 2013. Narcisse focused on learning the ins-and-outs of the business as Hill worked to bring the automatic car washes online in July of 2014.

Derailed by Disease

In April of 2014, Hill was diagnosed with steatohepatitis or fatty liver disease and by December was hospitalized in failing condition. He lay unconscious for five days. Over the next several months, the family sought out many doctors and options with the only chance of survival being a transplant.

David and his wife Kirsten moved to Memphis in August of 2015, near their treating physician while they awaited a donor. On October 23, 2015 Hill received a liver transplant. It so happened that the family was visiting at the time. “I told Damian ‘You’re in control. You need to take care of everything,’” Hill recalls emotionally.

His body rejected the transplant, he suffered pneumonia, his kidneys failed putting him on dialysis and he spent two months in the ICU.

On December 23, 2015, Hill underwent a second transplant operation receiving a liver and a kidney from a single donor. While the liver and kidney started working, his lungs were struggling. He sat in ICU until March, 2016. He spent the month of March in intense physical therapy and April recovering in Memphis. In May of 2016, Hill returned home to Williston.

Reflecting and Moving Forward

“God has been the center of our efforts,” extols Hill. “When I look back at how we got here… Coincidence? – there’s no such thing.”

Damian serves as general manager overseeing day-to-day operations while Hill watches over at a 30,000 foot view offering vision and guidance where needed. “Ours is a family business and we’re about serving the needs of our community,” shares Hill. “And we’re looking forward to the future.”

*Note: David Hill is grateful for the gifts he received. He encourages you to consider becoming a registered organ donor and giving to your local blood drives.



Tags: Business Bitz