Six parents set out two years ago with a business idea to end one of the greatest miseries known to beachgoers: lugging stuff to and from the sand.
Their Beach Caddy app (https://www.njbeachcaddy.com/) was designed to connect vacationers with teens equipped with orange plastic wagons and motivated by the prospect of making a few bucks over the summer. The service was launched only in Ocean City, where the reception the first year was enough to warrant its return last summer.
As another Jersey Shore season dawns, Beach Caddy is rolling into three new towns — Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Sea Isle City — and adding a car washing service as it celebrates a pivotal moment: landing an investor.
"What we're most proud of is helping people enjoy the beach and taking the stress out of the beachgoing experience," said Todd Serpico, a cofounder and father of four who teaches fifth grade at Radnor Elementary School. "Literally, dads hug our caddies."
With three children under 11, Dave Rivell of West Chester immediately recognized Beach Caddy as "a great idea," one worth investing in. "I definitely believe in less stress at the beach."
An insurance salesman by profession, Rivell has an investment portfolio that also includes Smoothie King, iCore Fitness, and KW Jackson Automotive, among others. He took a 10 percent stake in Beach Caddy in May after meeting Serpico for coffee and liking what he heard — that the business was about "more than taking bags to the beach."
"They see it as increasing family time," Rivell said, "how precious that time is and just making that experience smoother."
One statistic, in particular, surprised and swayed him: that the majority of Beach Caddy's jobs are one to three blocks from the beach. In other words, the company did not have to rely on only those vacationers staying far from the beach.
"That was a data point that eased a lot of concern," Rivell said. So was that half of Beach Caddy's founders are teachers and, consequently, have free time when the company is at its busiest.
Though there are no current plans to franchise, something with which Rivell has experience, he sees tremendous expansion potential for Beach Caddy.
"Wherever there's a body of water and people are actively enjoying it, there will be Beach Caddy," he said.
In Ocean City, Beach Caddy made 304 trips for 100 customers in summer 2015 and 740 trips for 200 customers in summer 2016. With its new territories, the company expects to serve more than 300 customers this summer. One-way trips are $17, but Serpico said packages have been popular, such as the one for six days and up to six people for $182.
With his background in franchising, land acquisition, and commercial insurance, partnering with Rivell "made sense," Serpico said.
Not that they agree on everything. In a recent interview, Rivell sounded unsold on the car washing idea. He said he respects "the mentality of 'How do we maximize what we're doing?' " Yet, he added, "I don't want the brand to get lost. Leverage the technology, but don't water down the brand."
The car wash was suggested by a customer, said Serpico, who found just one in Ocean City. "It's very difficult to find parking when you're down there, so if you leave your house to go wash your car, someone could quickly jump in your spot. So we thought we'd bring it to you." Caddies will perform basic car washes; a contractor will handle detailing.
It's Beach Caddy's second add-on. Last year, again in response to a customer request, the company debuted a move-in, move-out service, unloading and loading upon vacationers' arrivals and departures — $120 for bookend service; $70, one way. Forty-six signed up for the help last year, Serpico said.
A possibility for next year: Beach Teach, offering tutoring for kids while at the Shore.
Unwilling to disclose revenues, Serpico said they tripled in the second year and that Beach Caddy should reach profitability this year. It expects to hire 30 caddies, ages 16 to 25, this season, up from 19 last year.
So impressed was she with Beach Caddy that Bigford offered her help, providing mentoring on website design and investor pitches. She sees Beach Caddy's new offerings as consistent with "a seashore service-driven company."
"This is absolutely the evolution of a start-up," Bigford said. "They're smack on track with many other start-up companies that are successful. They're getting themselves out there."