In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, producing a clean, dry, shiny car is just table stakes. To win, a wash must provide an experience. And no experience rivals what Woodie’s Wash Shack has been able to build in just a few short years.
The growing Tampa, FL-based express wash has gone from upstart to market leader in a little more than three years, capturing motorists’ hearts and minds thanks to its fun aesthetic and commitment to providing a differentiated customer experience.
While founder Don Philips is new to the car wash industry, he has made his mark on the industry by going all-in on the 50s and 60s surf culture theme. Philips has run a successful multifamily real estate empire for years. When he cashed out of one of his apartment complexes in Texas, he was looking to diversify his holdings with a new business venture.
He took the proceeds from the sale of the property and purchased 10 parcels of land in the greater Tampa Bay area. He and his business partners explored many uses for the properties, including self-storage and Dunkin Donuts franchises, before landing on car wash. But before they were willing to jump into uncharted car wash waters, they needed a proof of concept. They purchased a struggling wash, Mount Wash More, from an absentee owner and resurrected it.
“In the first six months after buying Mount Wash More, rebranding it, and improving operations, everything was up like 20 percent,” says vice president of sales and marketing Jake Degeare. “We knew we were onto something and quickly moved onto our first ground-up development.”
The team didn’t want to develop just any car wash. They wanted something that could stand out in a crowd and produce long-lasting brand loyalty. They landed on a beach theme focused on the surf culture of the 50s and 60s, complete with an iconic woody station wagon logo and vibrant colors from the hot rods of the day.
“We want to build what Don calls a lifestyle brand,” says Degeare. “We want people to put Woodie’s stickers on the back of their cars because they want to be associated with the beach, carefree fun in the sun, and all those things that come with the nostalgic 50s and 60s beach scene.”
Since getting into the ground-up development game, Woodie’s has designed and built 15 express exterior washes, with a host of other sites in various stages of development. The brand’s short-term goal is to get 25 washes open and operational, with the long-term goal of expanding beyond the Tampa Bay area and becoming the most recognizable car wash brand in the state of Florida.
“We aim to have so many washes that it doesn’t make sense to drive past a bunch Woodie’s to go to one mom and pop,” says Degeare. “Corridors of dominance is a key strategy for us. We think if we have four washes on one street, why would a customer drive past all our washes to go somewhere else when you could be a member of ours and redeem that membership at any of them?”
Like most express exteriors, Woodie’s has a thriving membership model branded the Endless Wash Club. Members of the club can wash their cars up to once per day for one flat fee per month. Degeare and his team have been searching for a user-friendly mobile app platform to help customers access their accounts and provide them will meaningful promotions and offers based on their unique customer profiles.
Over the past few years, the team has experimented with multiple mobile application partners before settling on AMP. AMP’s customizable platform allows customers to seamlessly manage their memberships, purchase washes, find Woodie’s locations, earn rewards, and enter contests, among other next-gen functionality. In addition, the app provides Woodie’s marketing team with a customer management platform from which to launch targeted campaigns and monitor key performance metrics.
“We launched our app in early May,” Degeare says. “This is our third attempt at an app and the first time that we went with something out of the box that we could use as a foundation. Even though it’s off the shelf, we can use that foundation and build something proprietary on top of it. We didn’t want something that a competitor down the street could easily copy.”
In the first two months after launching the app, more than 30 percent of Woodie’s Endless Wash Club members installed it on their mobile devices. The team is working toward 60 percent of its members onboarded to the new app within six months and 95 percent within the first year of launching.
The new platform provides the marketing team with a way to connect with Woodie’s customer base and add a new wrinkle to their already extensive marketing tactics. The team utilizes a mix of traditional marketing approaches like billboards with digital strategies that provide real-time feedback and interaction with consumers.
Up to six months before opening a new Woodie’s location, the team is out knocking on doors in their new community, building relationships with local businesses. “We are always looking to form partnerships with businesses in our local markets,” says Degeare. “We truly believe in the baker sample model. Taste a piece of the pie for free, and maybe you’ll want to buy the whole thing. We’re huge on giving away free washes. It’s easy to knock on a business’s door and say, ‘Here’s a stack of free wash cards. You can give these to your customers completely free as a benefit for them shopping at your business.’ We feel like once a customer tries us once, they will keep coming back.”
Another way that Woodie’s endures itself in the local marketplace is through its partnership with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Woodie’s is the official car wash of the Bucs and can utilize the Bucs logo in their marketing efforts, give free tickets to its customers, and bring their experiential Woodie’s trailer to Bucs home games and join in on the vibrant Tampa Bay pre-game tailgating scene. The street team’s trailer can convert to a surf-themed patio with Adirondack chairs, palm trees, and plenty of snacks and giveaways to attract new customers to the brand.
Woodie’s unique business theme and marketing approach has not gone unnoticed in the community. The wash was recently named the 2023 Small Business of the Year by the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. “This was the first year we were up for the award,” says Degeare. “Typically, companies don’t win the first year, so obviously, we are very happy and proud to have won it. More than 400 companies were considered for the award; it was quite the honor and accomplishment.”
Woodie’s looks poised for a slew of awards and recognitions as it scales its unique themed wash across the Tampa Bay market and beyond. By providing customers with a memorable experience, Woodie’s is setting itself apart from the crowd and becoming the car wash brand in the communities it serves.