Dash’s Marches to its Own Beat

Discussion
May 16, 2007

By George Anderson

Joe Dash, president of Dash’s Market in upstate NY, knows what it takes to be successful as an independent grocer. The first requirement is an independent streak.

Mr. Dash told The Buffalo News, “We write our own music, hum our own tunes, and dance to our own music,” he said. “We want to have a point of difference. And if we can’t find it, we try to create it. We have to go to market every day with our ‘A’ game. There’s no wiggle room for being substandard.”

Finding and creating a difference for Dash’s has meant weekly seafood deliveries from Hawaii, meats imported from Italy and dry-aged prime beef among other things. The family-owned business is growing with a planned opening of a fourth store in the fall as well as remodels and expansion of its existing stores.

Remarkably, Dash’s success has come even though consumers in the markets he serves have numerous other shopping choices, including Tops Markets, Wegmans and Wal-Mart Supercenters. According to a Scarborough Report survey, 75 percent of consumers in the Buffalo and Niagara areas said they had shopped at a Tops store in the past week. Fifty-two percent had shopped at Wegmans during the same period. Six percent reported shopping at Dash’s.

Mr. Dash doesn’t appear overly concerned by the numbers since he sees his business as offering an alternative for consumers looking for relief from the big box experience. A smaller footprint (about 25,000-square-feet) is an obvious departure and the desire to be different is found on the shelves where a combination of local and long-distance suppliers gives consumers product choices not found in many other stores.

Mark Mahoney, director of operations for Dash’s, said, “We know we’re never going to win the battle to sell Tide against the big guys.”

Mr. Dash told The Buffalo News that he often gets requests to open stores in different communities but he’s not in any rush to grow for growth’s sake. “You can’t do this everywhere. But there’s a handful of neighborhoods where this works.”

Discussion Questions: What can other independents learn from the experience of Dash’s Market? Dash’s differentiates and succeeds by going upscale. Can independent grocers also succeed by going in the opposite direction and catering to less affluent consumers?

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10 Comments on "Dash’s Marches to its Own Beat"


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Jeffery M. Joyner
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Jeffery M. Joyner
15 years 11 days ago

Not only can independent grocers succeed but they can steal market share from some of the larger players. There are many consumers who really care about the unique positioning that might be employed by Grocers like Dash’s. With ever increasingly difficult lives, consumers long for a “different experience” than the norm. This is particularly true when that experience yields a favorable and unexpectedly pleasant outcome.

As retailers struggle for what’s next, sometimes it is good to remember what has succeeded time after time. Treating the consumer with respect, providing for their needs and adding extra features and attributes is a fantastic position to choose. As long as the concept has sound and well executed principals that are measured to be sure things are on track then this positioning is one to be considered by others. This is particularly true of the regional players. I applaud the effort.

Others can learn from Dash’s unique and alternative way of going to market and pleasing their shoppers.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

Clearly independent operators successfully cater to lower income shoppers every day using exactly the same tools as upscale operators: understanding their market; listening to their customers; selecting and training great employees; and working tirelessly to guard their position in their communities.

Justin Time
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

It’s all about niche marketing. Small grocers like Dash’s know their customers very well, and cater to them.

The big guys are learning fast that they too must cater to these niche markets. And some customers really don’t like the oversized, overpriced and overstuffed offerings of Wegmans, when all they want is an intimate setting full of flavorful, fresh food at fair prices.

A&P with its recent fresh format openings in Downtown Baltimore MD and West New York, NJ is listening well to its customers. These stores are well stocked with fresh foods but are right sized so that the customer can make their purchases and leave without having to walk miles within the footprint.

Small is beautiful as the saying goes. Some customers prefer their food stores to be that way as well.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 11 days ago

First, Joe Dash should be applauded for his keen sense of what he is and what he wants to provide the market place. There are a number of great retailers that are providing a differentiation in the market place…Bristol Farms, Lunds, and Andronico’s just to name a few. And there are a number of others that are looking at higher-end formats within their arsenal to compete in targeted areas like HEB and Giant Eagle.

The consumer is looking for an indulgence and attention in their shopping experience that big box, multiple box stores have a hard time providing. Home improvement is another great area, with retailers like True Value doing a great job servicing the consumer in a way that Home Depot and Lowe’s cannot approach.

Price is not always the issue and is sometimes not important at all.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
15 years 11 days ago

Yes, they can. Professors C. K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hunter in their landmark book “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” have clearly shown how several multinational companies are making money by going after poor consumers in China, India, and Latin America. I do not see why that can not be done in the U.S.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

Well, if I were an independent operator staking my kids’ college educations and my retirement on this choice, which would I do: Upscale, or downscale? Where would my odds be better? C’mon, guys. Of course it’s possible to succeed at downscale, but your odds are a whole lot better with the upscale. I can wish otherwise until I turn blue, but it won’t change anything.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 11 days ago

Yes, this is “music to the consumers’ ears,” in the Buffalo selling area.

When any owner of his/her business can write their own music i.e., game plan, and execute to it with shopper focused efforts and service in mind, it becomes the shopping experience…which escapes the national box store, and super center grocers. And it all starts with the premise of consumer marketing–knowing your target audience and creating a distinct and usually, difficult to copy, point of difference.

Bravo, to Dash’s owners and management!!!

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

I agree with Ryan; it comes down to understanding your customers. I have one client who has a no shirt, no shoes, no problem attitude and caters to a lower income consumer. They make customers feel good about coming into their store the same way upscale stores do special things to make upscale customers feel at home. They just do it in a different way.

One of my favorite examples is Pechin’s in rural Pennsylvania, which operates out of badly shopworn facility yet does an excellent job in attracting lower income consumers. And they still sell 19 cent hamburgers in their cafe.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

When one thinks of differentiation, the term “upscale” is usually included as part of the description. It doesn’t have to be. To be successful, any retailer needs to develop a clear, distinct, and desirable place in the mind of the target market. It begins by finding out the key food-related needs of the target market and then developing a strategy and a set of tactics that exceeds these needs. The next step is to staff and execute well every day. It is not about upscale or downscale. It pays to remember that marketing is a race with no finish line.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

Many people believe that it’s easier to go upscale than down. They do not see the huge additional labor cost and the increased food waste. And rumor has it that rents are higher in upscale areas. Grocery competition is murder whether you’re upscale, downscale or in the middle.

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