Franchising Today - Summer 2016 - 86
www.wetwillies.com / HQ: Savannah, Ga. / Bill Dickinson, CEO: "We could open
and without any advertising at all have 4,000 people there on opening night."
happen five to six times a year, but
there's always lots of people around,
especially on weekends."
The city of Savannah's status as a
city where open containers of alcohol
are allowable in public places, plus its
low liquor license fee of $1,500, made it
the perfect spot for Dickinson's group
to open its frozen daiquiri bar. The first
Wet Willie's opened its doors on River
Street on St. Patrick's Day 1990.
AN INCLUSIVE ATMOSPHERE
All Wet Willie's locations feature
20 frozen drink machines that
offer a variety of flavors.
Keeping it Cool
Wet Willie's prides itself on strong drinks and high
profit margins for its franchisees. BY JIM HARRIS
In 1988, Bill Dickinson and a
few friends shared a laugh when one
of the group, in response to being
asked what he planned to do during
his retirement, said he was "thinking
about opening a frozen drink bar on a
Shortly afterward, Dickinson - at
the time a Licensed Clinical Psychologist - was again approached by the
friend, a former Midwest regional
sales representative for the Toyota
Motor Company, about the idea. "He
said he was ready to do it. I asked, 'Do
what?', and he said, 'Open the frozen
drink bar,'" Dickinson relates.
He adds that "I thought about it,
and figured that I'm a pretty smart
and focused guy, so maybe this idea
Dickinson and his partner began
investigating the concept by scouting potential locations on the East
Coast and researching frozen drink
machines used at bars in New Orleans. After six months of research, the
ideal location presented itself during
a meeting in Savannah, Ga., during
the city's Oktoberfest celebration.
"We were on a balcony overlooking
River Street [the city's main gathering place] and saw thousands of people hanging around with drinks in
plastic cups," Dickinson says. "[My
partner] asked how often does this
happen, I said gatherings this large
A few years after opening their first
location, Dickinson and Wet Willie's
other founders began pursuing additional locations and franchise opportunities. Today, there are 17 Wet Willie's locations, mainly in the eastern
United States. In addition to frozen
drinks, the majority of the company's
locations offer food. Most locations
average in size from 2,500 to 5,500
square feet. Currently three Wet Willie's locations are inside casinos in
Atlantic City and St. Louis; these locations do not serve food and are roughly 1,500 to 2,000 square feet in size.
All locations feature 20 frozen
drink machines offering a variety of
flavors that change regularly as well
as perennial favorites that have been
a staple of the company throughout
its 25-year history. Recent flavors include "Polar Cappuccino," a mixture
of espresso, coffee-flavored ice cream
and grain alcohol; "Jack and Ginger,"
which features Jack Daniels whisky
and fresh macerated ginger; and "Willie Dazed," a version of a hard strawberry lemonade.
Although Wet Willie's drinks are
known to pack a punch, the environment in its locations is far from hostile. "One thing we're known for - and
which I'm very proud of and that I
think makes a big difference for us - is
that we have designed our ambience