In Washtopia Land, an anonymous employee nominated Angie Harper for a Member Spotlight interview, and wrote the following:
“We are nominating Angie, who runs our damage claims department and fulfillment operations for our 3 car washes. She has been with us for nearly a year. She is a joy to work with and a great addition to our team. We think she’d be a great member to spotlight.”
By the submission alone, I could tell immediately that Angie Harper would be a special member to interview. In fact, prior to receiving the submission, I had met Angie at our Pancake Breakfast Social in June, and through just a brief conversation in Honeycomb amongst griddling pancakes, I knew I wanted to interview Angie, at some point. Our conversation together met all my expectations and more.
As I wait in the Hitchhiker conference room, with all my interviewing supplies ready to go, it is as if a fluttering ladybug floated through the open glass barn door and into the tall seat across from me. Angie’s glasses, with cherry red frame fronts and deep blue pieces with white polka dots across her temples, frame her rosy face. Given her aura, full of kind giggles, I am not at all surprised when Angie mentions she had previously been a preschool teacher.
Before I dive deep into the questions I prepared, Angie and I exchange sentiments on the rapidly expanding Music City metropolis, and the growing pains that come with it, “I mean there’s no such thing as Rush Hour anymore. It’s all day, everyday.” With cars on the mind, I ask Angie about her job as Claims Manager at the modern take on car washing that is Washtopia.
Andra Ingram: Speaking of cars, how did you hear about Washtopia?
Angie Harper: Well, after 7 years I quit my job as a preschool teacher; I was also pregnant with my daughter, my second child. Being with kids all day and then coming home with kids was kind of hard, so I asked myself, “when are you going to make a change?”
So, last summer, my son and I were going to spend as much time together as possible, before he was no longer an only child, but I ended up falling and breaking my leg. I had to have surgery, and they put in two plates and 14 screws. They put me under and everything, while I was 4 months pregnant. I don’t know how much you want to know…
AI: Anything you’re comfortable with sharing!
AH: I mean, I’m kind of an over-sharer. So, post-op the “spending the whole summer with my son” went out the window because I couldn’t walk. Then he started school, and I had my daughter.
I have always enjoyed working, and I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool and all that. I need that balance. I need both. So, I kept putting my resume out there just to stay in the know with what’s going on with the work field. During that time, I came across Washtopia on Indeed. They had a listing for a claims specialist, which spiked my interest because there seemed to be growth in the position. It wasn’t just “this is what you are going to be doing, and that’s it.”
When I had my interview for the position, my daughter was 5 weeks old, and then two days later I started the job. That was so much sooner than I expected it to be. It just kind of all came together, and it just felt right. I told my husband, “I don’t know if I should be doing this already. Should I just wait it out a bit?” and he said, “Well, the worst that can happen is that you don’t like it, and you say, ‘thank you for the opportunity, it’s just not for me.’” I’m glad I took it because right now it’s a part-time position but as we’re growing, it’ll be full-time by the beginning of next year.
Actually, my degree is in HR management, and that’s really what I want to end up doing, that side of things. But Washtopia is smaller and just starting out, and it’s exciting for me to be part of that. The part-time hours are really flexible, which works really well with having a kiddo.
In fact, I’m the first person they hired that wasn’t an owner. Originally, it was only the three owners working the company. The owners knew, “hey, when we bring her in, there will be a little bit of an adjustment” But it just went so seamlessly. With a small group of people, it’s kind of hard. You guys in the building know; it’s close-knit. You don’t have to be best friends with each other, but you have to be able to mesh. But it just feels like I’ve been working with them forever.
Angie ends her answer by softly laughing and commenting on the vast amount of information she dealt me for one question, but I assure her that her detailed answer is exactly what I need.
AI: According to the person who nominated you, you work the “claims department and fulfillment operations”…is that just a formal title, or would you say it’s an accurate description of what you do?
AH: Really, my business card says “claims manager”. Eventually, we’ll have a whole claims department as we grow and become busier, though right now it’s just me. I kind of just do what needs to get done. I like to stay busy. I don’t like to stay with one thing. Right now I’m just kind of keeping the office running and doing whatever needs to be done. Fulfillment operations is a good way of putting it.
I do all the ordering for the wash site, like the chemicals, and I bring on the new hires. All Around Awesome Gal is what Jason, one of the guys, calls me.
AI: So, tell me your favorite part about working at Washtopia.
AH: Well it doesn’t have to be my favorite part, but shifting from working with kids to being with adults and having conversations with adults. Just that professional environment and being challenged differently. At a lot of places you’ll say, “Hey, I’ll take on more. Let me know what you want me to do.” and they’ll say, “okay, cool.” But to actually work at a place that says, “Hey, do you want to try this? See if you want to do it?” They definitely give challenges and make it fun and exciting. I’m not punching in and punching out doing the same thing all day, everyday.
AI: Had you heard of Center 615 before working for Washtopia?
AH: I had not! When Jason gave me a tour, I was blown away at what’s on the inside. Not that it’s not pretty on the outside, too, but you come out here and you walk around and you’re like “oh my god, this place is awesome!”
AI: What do you like most?
AH: I haven’t used it yet, but the nap room is pretty awesome. Just the idea of it, and that it’s there…if you have a headache, and you’re like, “man, I got to take a 5,” there’s a place for that. Usually you’d have to go out to your car for that.
AI: Sometimes I use the meditation room when I need a quiet place to go.
AH: I used the meditation room one time. I should use it more. There was one day I had an awful, awful headache and I just needed darkness and quiet, not necessarily to go to sleep, but I just needed a moment. So I used the iPad with the little music and stuff. And I’ve never had such an expansive break room, too, with an actual full fridge and ice. I’m so spoiled now. If I went somewhere else without that I’d ask, “guys…come on, where’s your full fridge?”
AI: And the iced coffee. I don’t know what I’m going to do without it. I hope they keep it after the summer, but as far as I know, it’s just going to be a warm season thing.
AH: I don’t drink coffee, but having that available is so awesome because everybody needs a boost. Everybody needs a pick-me-up.
(AH giggles as AI gulps down her smooth, black iced coffee)
My sister has a rule that she can’t be talked to before she’s had one cup of coffee. Like, her kids will come up to her and she’ll say, “I haven’t had my coffee yet. Go. Walk away.”
AI: (laughs) I feel that.
AH: I feel that on a deep level.
We continue our casual conversation as we delve into the topics of car washing frequency, bird poop on cars, the Washtopia location in Hermitage, and her 5 year old son growing bored of the typically highly anticipated event of driving through Washtopia’s wet, sudsy hyperspace.
AI: What is the most bizarre damage claim you’ve ever worked on?
AH: What to share…there’s so many! Washtopia has cameras inside the wash, so my job is to review the footage. If we’re responsible for something, we pay for it. My job isn’t “let’s see if we can weasel our way out of this one!” I will tell you, Washtopia is the most honest company I have ever, I mean ever worked for. And I’m not saying that because I work there. They care about their people, and they really actually care about their customers.
So, when I look at the cameras, I see whether it was messed up before they came in or if we messed up something further that they already had. If you have a piece sticking out of your car, and you have material that’s moving, of course that could possibly catch on it, so situations like that. But, there was one where the trim on the vehicle was completely off before they came in. Like, there was no trim. You just saw the metal.
I will say, the most recent kind of crazy one. And once you see the video, you’re just like, “oh my gosh, really, dude?” So during the car wash, you’re supposed to have your car in neutral and it kind of pulls you along. Well, we had someone in there with their car in drive, and he drove into the car in front of him! The workers quickly stopped the belt, and one of them goes up to the driver to say, “put your car in neutral” and as the worker is talking to him, SLAM! the driver hits the car in front of him again. That one I think is my most bizarre because he said, “send me the video footage. I think that the belt pulled me into that car,” but that’s not possible, especially when the belt is not moving. We have a Hall of Fame folder for odd claims, and he’s in that now. Excuse me, Hall of Shame.
AI: I love that!
AI: (laughs) I noticed on Washtopia’s website under “claims we are not responsible for” you guys listed “Kia fins” specifically. Is there a story behind that?
AH: It’s a manufacturing fault with Kia, though it’s not something that they’ve recalled. If you go on their forums, or whatever, everybody is up in arms about those fins because it’s just an inexpensive plastic piece connected to the metal of the car. The flimsy little plastic just breaks free from the metal so easily. When some people drive down the interstate at a higher speed it’ll fly right off!
AI: Actually, when I read that, I didn’t know what a Kia fin was, so I had to Google it. I think what first popped up was Kia fin replacements.
AH: There’s a Facebook group called TalkCarWash, and I swear every week is like, “the damn Kia antenna”. It’s called a shark fin antenna, too. Hyundai has it on some of their cars, so any time I see one of those damage claims come in I’m like, “oh god…” because it’s on the website that we’re not responsible for them, so we’re covered, but it’s such an odd area because I know people are upset about it. Most people don’t know! Like, I had no idea before working at Washtopia that those antennas were an issue. Anybody could have bought a Kia and had no idea because Kia isn’t going to say, “hey, be careful because we built something crappy.”
AI: Alright so to take a completely different turn, no pun intended, what’s your proudest achievement working at Washatopia?
AH: (vibrato hums “uhmmm”) I mean, I feel like I leave daily feeling productive, but I’m trying to think of one that’s not lame, because who wants to be like, “I bought pens for all of us!”
We sometimes have events, so I get to be the organizer of those. For one we went to Top Golf as a group. It was with us here in the office and the managers of our three washes. Obviously, I got with a catering person on that, too, but bringing all that together was fun. Creating the event, deciding where we were going, picking out what we wanted from the caterer’s menu. It all went really well, and everyone had fun. That was a good feeling, to organize something that everyone enjoyed together.
AI: What’s the biggest challenge that you have faced at Washtopia?
AH: Before I was a teacher I was in retail management, so I’ve dealt with my fair share of angry people. But to be the end voice has been harder because in retail you can say to a customer, “okay, I’ll talk to my manager.” But that’s me. If it’s a tricky one, I can get input from Randall, the CFO, or someone. He was the one that was doing the damage claims before me, so kind of taking that torch and being in charge of it has been a little more challenging, calling the shots, essentially.
Especially when you get angry customers…I’m kind of a potty mouth myself; I have no problems with what people say. I don’t have a lot of filters on myself, but when they get so angry that they’re yelling and cursing to the point that they’re not even hearing what you’re saying…those are the challenging ones because they’re upset and they don’t want to hear anything besides, “I am going to fix it.” Luckily, those situations aren’t often, but if this position became where that was every single day, that’s not something that I could do. As long as those make up 3-5% of the damage claims, I’m cool.
A piece of golden advice Angie gives, related to angry calls but applicable elsewhere, is “Let it roll off. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t let it affect you. Leave it at work, and you’ll come back to it tomorrow.”
AI: What goal are you striving towards, or where would you like to be in 5 years?
AH: As we’re growing, it would be nice to reach a point where we would have a big enough team to have a claims department that I would manage. That would be my shorter-term one, but eventually I’d like to be the manager of an HR department.
But I have always seen myself as an HR person at a hospital or a healthcare setting. I wanted to be a nurse for a while, and I started going to school for that; however, I cannot poke people with needles. So, how else can I help people? I like people, talking to people, so HR might be it. And if I can get my foot in the healthcare door, that does both things. Helping the people that help people, that would be nice.
AI: If you could describe your experience working at Washtopia using five words, what would they be?
AH: This is a weird one probably, but closeness. There’s been a couple instances, and one was shortly after I got hired, and I was like, “oh, this will be my last day. They’re going to fire me.” Well, my son got sick at school, and that’s just part of having a kid. A lot of places, especially lot of previous jobs, they’re like, “I don’t know what to tell you,” but at Washtopia, they’re like, “dude, family comes first, so go get him! What are you doing here?” Caring would be another one.
Washtopia actually cares about their people, as opposed to “you’re a number, you’re there to pull profits.” For sure community because they are always, always donating to something, searching for causes. They’re always like, “what can we get into now? What can we donate to?” We sponsor a bunch of t-ball, softball, soccer teams for kids, High School bands, stuff like that. Giving, very giving, that was one of the main reasons I sent my resume to them…when I saw that on their website, I was like, “alright, yeah that’s got me.” What they want to do as we grow is to give everybody one paid day off a year where they pick a place to volunteer at. We’re not doing that yet, but I’m going to the Humane Society. I already know, so just let me know when it’s time.
It’s so refreshing to work somewhere that actually gives a s*** about their people because you really don’t see that anymore, at all. It might be coming back now with our generation, maybe, I don’t know.
AI: I guess we’ll find out.
AH: But it feels that way in this building. Like everyone here is just, “what’s going on? What can I do?” And that makes you want to be better for people. It’s very refreshing.
Detailed stories bounce back and forth about similar experiences working at a place with schedule flexibility, a manager’s compassionate understanding, etc., as well as contrasting
stories nightmares working in retail jobs with strict, unreasonable schedules. The final exchange transitions into the bittersweet portion of the interview…
AI: So, I have my last question. Do you have any Insider advice or secrets about having your car washed? Like, if there are certain seasons to wash, or not wash, your car? For example, I’ve heard, “don’t wash your car in the winter because it’ll chip your paint,” or something like that?
AH: I’ve never heard that one, which is weird.
AI: It could be a myth.
AH: Definitely after there is salt on the road because that will rust the s*** out of the bottom of your car. It’s better for your car to keep it cleaner more regularly, and it’s easier to clean it. If stuff just keeps building up, washing it more frequently is better for it. Especially after a bird poops on your car. Bird poop is very acidic. I recently actually learned that one working in the industry, but the acid in the bird poop takes no time at all to start eating at your clear coat.
A lot of times we’ll see that people don’t utilize our VIP membership, when it could be saving them money. With the monthly VIP membership, you can go up to twice a day, everyday. Our high-end washes are $18, and to get high-end washes up to 2 times a day for 30 days is $35 with the VIP plan, so two washes pays for 1 month of VIP. Some people will come once a week, and I’m like, “so, you’re paying $18×4 ($72) instead of the $34.99 it would have been for that 30 days.” So you gotta VIP plan it up, even if it’s not with Washtopia. It just keeps your car in good shape…and I mean we have free vacuums and towels, too. I know that really doesn’t go along with the question.
AI: Not exactly, but free product promotion is never a bad thing (laughs). So, we’ll end it there. Thank you for your time! Your stories were very interesting, and I’m ecstatic that I was able to interview you.
An additional thank you goes out to Washtopia, and their members here at Center 615 for nominating Angie Harper for a Member Spotlight.
If you or someone you know is a member at Center 615, and would like to be featured in a Member Spotlight, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.