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    Dash In Focuses on Fresh

    CSNews Online looks inside the new concept for Dash In Food Stores, which opened in early August.

    LA PLATA, Md. -- Dash In Food Stores, a 35-store convenience chain owned by The Wills Group Inc., based here, unveiled a new concept on Aug. 3, highlighting the company's commitment to fresh foods and convenience.

    "A driving strategy was to produce a new facility with a big-box appeal that could fit on a smaller retail parcel," Dash In president and CEO Mel Strine told CSNews Online.

    The Hawthorne Road Dash In -- a 3,200-square-foot facility located adjacent to the parent company's corporate office -- is a culmination of a plan that began in 2002 to design a more efficient and modern prototype store. The store also replaces an older location in the area, which was closed simultaneous with the new store opening, Strine said.

    While the first prototype unit was built in 2003, the Hawthorne Road Dash In completes the concept's development before aggressive rollout of the design begins in 2008. To date, 11 of the new prototype locations are in development to roll out during the next 18 months, said Strine.

    "This latest design includes all upgrades, inside and out, along with lessons learned from the construction and operation of the previous four test locations," he said.

    For example, the prototype's take-home meal replacement section was altered. "That piece of [the concept] had some fine-tuning. We changed where we located the bakery, making it closer to the coffee," he said.

    Unique to the concept are open-air cases for deli items and take home/home meal replacement offerings. In addition, its stand-alone coffee bar and bakery section, which supplies fresh bread to the operation, were expanded with additional features and offerings, according to Strine.

    Exclusive to the new concept is a brick store exterior, giving it a "neighborhood appeal," said Strine. Other offerings new to the chain include a Splash In-branded car wash, which uses the latest technology for a touch or touch-free wash.

    Familiar features include a hot foods promotion using the TurboChef High h Batch oven. The Got 2 Minutes promotion, which launched this year, focuses on customers at the pump. Using promotional materials on the gas islands, the chain urges customers to go into the store while pumping gas and ask for a pizza while they wait. Using the h Batch oven -- which uses a combination of convection and microwave technology -- a full-size pizza can be ready to take home in 2 minutes, he said.

    The Hawthorne Road Dash In is also the company's new franchise training center for Dash In franchisee candidates.

    "Later this year, a stand-alone training center will be established for classroom training and the store will continue to serve as the learning center for hands-on retail training," said Strine. "All corporate Dash In employees working at this location will be required to meet special and unique certification standards to work with new franchisees."

    To promote the new prototype, Dash In employed a multiple-launch advertising and promotion plan. A grand opening ceremony included more than 50,000 fliers that included $1- and $2-off coupons for gas and diesel purchases, which were sent to local residents. The fliers also featured multiple free food coupons for items on the new foodservice menu, Stine said. In addition, sampling, couponing and daily specials will highlight the store's offerings.

    Stay tuned for complete coverage in Convenience Store News' Sept. 17 issue.

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