TAMPA Within minutes, the line of cars stretched down W Euclid Avenue and past the expressway.
People love free things. People really love a free tank of gas.
Winn-Dixie and its parent company, Southeastern Grocers, took over a Shell gas station at the corner of Euclid and S Dale Mabry Highway on Wednesday morning to promote a new rewards and loyalty program by giving out free fuel.
The Southeastern Grocers card or “SEG” Rewards allows shoppers to accumulate points after purchases at Winn-Dixie and Fresco y Más which they can later exchange for money off groceries or gas at Shell.
“We listened to our customers,” said CEO Anthony Hucker moments before leading a countdown to allow the cars to the pumps. “They made it clear they care about saving on food and fuel.”
Winn-Dixie and its parent company kept the location of the free gas a secret until 10 a.m. Wednesday. But once teams blasted the address out across social media and on the radio, cars quickly rolled in.
The first 100 guests pulled away with up to $40 worth of gas and a free Winn-Dixie tote filled with the stores private-labeled snacks.
The new rewards program comes as Winn-Dixies parent company remodels stores, changes merchandise offerings and updates its branding after emerging from bankruptcy earlier this year.
Hucker said a mix of focus groups, surveys and talking to shoppers in person helped him decide how to approach the new rewards program. He said input from shoppers led his team to make it so points only expired after two years and extended to both groceries and fuel at Shell, rather than one or the other.
Once Hucker announced it was 11 a.m. and the free gas could flow, waiting drivers honked and cheered as workers began to methodically move them to the pumps.
Albert Wilder, 26, snuggled his kitten named Free while waiting in his drivers seat as one of the first handful cars in line.
A few spots ahead of Wilder was John Lamboglia. He lives just four minutes away and his wife called him to tell him to rush into line.
“I never even fill this up all the way,” he said, elated for a free fill-up for his red pickup.
Tampa police helped control traffic, prevented cutting and guided drivers in and out of the lot. It took workers just under one hour to fill the 100 cars.
Winn-Dixie said it wouldnt allow drivers to pull in tractors or equipment on trailers to get free gas but Joe Hudek actually drove his Bobcat to the gas station. He said his construction site was just two streets away. He was heading to the Shell to get gas unaware the promotion was even happening.
“I saw this long line forming, and I was worried there was an accident,” he said. “Lo and behold, it was free gas.”
Hudek, a Winn-Dixie shopper, said he used the stores previous rewards card and was happy to learn the new system allowed him benefits at Shell, too.
The value of unredeemed Plenti points under the former system will be issued to the new SEG cards for registered customers.
Shoppers who go to Shell stations and swipe their new rewards card and receive “Gold Status” can save 5 cents per gallon on every fill up to 20 gallons.
Hudek said he planned to use the new card.
His free yellow Winn-Dixie tote was situated safely in his Bobcats bucket before he drove away with $40 worth of diesel in his tank just after 11 a.m.
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.