By Lilly Chapa
When Mighty Wash Auto Bath was approaching its 10 year anniversary earlier this year, it chose to celebrate the milestone by engaging the youngest members of the community. The Lubbock, Texas-based wash, which has built 21 locations throughout the Permian Basin of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico, asked elementary school children to imagine a sidekick for its popular mascot, Mighty Max. Joe Landin, director of marketing and development at Mighty Wash, anticipated a fun way to connect with kids and bring the beloved superhero sponge Mighty Max into the community. Instead, he said, the contest went gangbusters.
Eleven schools within the district participated, accumulating about 160 drawings of Mighty Max’s potential new sidekick. Each school chose three top submissions, and Landin, along with Mighty Max and other team members, went to the schools and presented the student winners with an installment into a college fund and gave art teachers money for their classrooms as well.
On its face, the contest had very little to do with bringing business to Mighty Wash. It wasn’t held at a Mighty Wash location, the prizes weren’t coupons or vouchers, and the contest’s main participants – elementary-aged children – aren’t exactly the target demographic for a car wash. But Landin considered it a huge success and is now looking to do a similar contest with local high schools.
This type of community involvement is at the heart of Mighty Wash’s marketing and branding approach, Landin said. It’s not unusual for people to ask if Mighty Max can make an appearance at the local high school’s football game, a child’s birthday party or community fundraisers.
“It’s all about creating opportunities to engage with and show up for our communities, and that’s huge,” Landin said.
This community collaboration offers two-pronged benefits: steady business and support from the community, and a flow of trustworthy and reliable talent.
“Our growth is driven by our investment in our community,” said Jay Wyatt, chief operating officer of Mighty Wash. “Our investment ranges from being a corporate sponsor with Texas Tech University here, to involvement with small nonprofits and local schools.”
Mighty Wash not only gives back to local organizations but to its young employees as well, Landin said. As part of its mission to better the communities they serve, Mighty Wash strives to support and foster employees even as they are still attending high school or college. The wash provides tuition reimbursement of $2,000 a semester for employees attending local colleges, no strings attached.
“When we go out to look for individuals to help us grow, our branding, involvement with organizations and commitment to being present in the community all factor into individuals saying yes to us and being part of the growth,” Wyatt said. “It’s putting all these pieces together to make Mighty Wash a great place for people to work and be associated with.”
The wash highlights its student employees whether or not they stay after graduation. When schools were virtual during Covid, Mighty Wash hosted graduation ceremonies for their employees who weren’t able to graduate in person with their classmates. The majority of Mighty Wash’s managers are grown from within the company, something Wyatt attributed to its support of students.
“The kids we have working with us have come up through our system, and because we take care of them, they stay longer,” Wyatt said. “If they stay, you have more stability, which allows you to grow.”
Read to Succeed
Sustainable growth is on the mind of the leadership at Mighty Wash as they branch out into communities outside of Lubbock. Working on fostering relationships in their newer regions is an ongoing priority, but expansion has been made easier with a united group of employees.
Fostering young employees to stay loyal to Mighty Wash throughout their schooling has already proved successful, but the wash has also brought workers together in a business mindset through an unusual activity – a book club.
Each quarter, Mighty Wash’s CEO chooses a book for everyone from lower-level management up to read and discuss. The books’ topics have ranged from leadership, growth best practices and novel hiring approaches.
“We try to take some of the ideas and concepts from those books and implement them,” Landin said. “We gather together and discuss how we can implement what we’ve learned into what we’re doing. Sometimes it’s small things and sometimes they’re big, but we’ve made crucial decisions for our company based on what we’ve learned in these book clubs.”
As expansion became the norm rather than the exception, the wash started Mighty Wash University, a three-semester program that guides employees from lower-level management to mid-management and then running a wash. Two groups have graduated from the program so far, and 30 employees are currently taking Mighty Wash University classes, Landin said. This approach has given Mighty Wash confidence in the managers it uses to start up new washes while making them more self-sufficient and empowered to make decisions that used to be made at the corporate level, he said.
“That’s the key that allows us to branch out from current locations to new ones – it makes the staffing part of expansion the easiest,” Landin said. “Through this program, we’ve created a situation where all managers at all locations know each other. If a problem comes up, rather than having 20 people pick up the phone and call a regional manager, they’re calling each other to figure it out, because they’re all learning together.”
With trained managers ready and able to start up new washes, Mighty Wash has taken this approach and applied it to lower-level employees as well. In anticipation of opening a new wash, managers will overhire at a nearby location and train up employees that can be moved to the new wash with the skills and confidence needed to succeed at Mighty Wash from the start.
“It works a lot more smoothly that way,” Wyatt said. “Because people stay working with us for so long, it’s a simple process but it’s made things way easier on us and allowed us to shuffle people around a lot more easily.”
Expanding into regions outside of Lubbock while intentionally building trust with the community isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it, Landin said. Recently, a man from Midland, Texas, where Mighty Wash has started to expand its footprint, called Landin and asked about purchasing 120 gift cards to the wash for parishioners at his church. Because the location in Midland didn’t have enough gift cards on hand to fulfill the man’s order, it was up to Landin to make it happen – and he did that by driving them down the next day and meeting the man who was so supportive of Mighty Wash.
“I’m taking 120 gift cards 120 miles from where I am,” Landin said. “I could have overnighted them in the mail, but it’s all about building that trust factor. Outside of the norm is what we do here, and that’s what wins.”