Dash In, a convenience store chain with over 50 locations in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, has always prided itself on pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a convenience store. In-store foodservice and highly designed spaces are a big part of its ethos. In April, Dash In, which is owned by The Wills Group, Inc., opened a new store in Chesterfield County, Va., that pushed things even further with a big store that blurs the lines between grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores.
The store is 5,600 square feet, features an extensive craft beer program, an open kitchen and bar, and convenience or gas station staples like a 24-hour car wash and 16 fueling positions. It’s not your average pit stop, but executives insist it’s not a grocery store either.
“When a consumer visits a grocery store, that is usually their final destination, and time doesn’t serve as a major constraint,” said Darleen Nascimento, director of brand marketing at Dash In.
“Time is a constraint for the typical convenience store customer. We recognize that our customers are busy, so we are working to have Dash In serve as a convenience hub that makes life more rewarding for time-stretched people and transforms the necessary errands of today’s busy lives into engaging experiences.”
Inside the Chesterfield County store, customers can grab a Memphis pulled pork sandwich, cranberry chicken salad and a growler of local beer to go. Or they can stay awhile, pull up a seat at the industrial-chic seating area, tap into the free wi-fi and order a Virginia wine — yes, there are wineries in Virginia. Of course, this is still a convenience store, so doughnuts and an all-day breakfast menu are also on offer. And coffee is a top seller. “We are looking to try some new test coffee concept ideas next year,” Nascimento said.
The concept store is the result of three years of market and consumer research, said Nascimento. And the new location helps with R&D for other sites.
“We now meet monthly with Dash In store managers to discuss customer feedback, where we also review store sales to understand what’s popular,” she said. “Our Chesterfield County location also serves as one of Dash In’s innovation hubs. Given the size of the kitchen, we’re able to test new menu items prior to deploying across our 56 other Dash In locations.”
Dash In plans to open multiple concept stores in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in the next few years. But each space will reflect the neighborhood and its needs, said Nascimento.
“Chesterfield County is a growing corner of the greater Richmond market, that features a rich mix of residential communities — from apartments to townhouses to lakefront communities,” she said. “Our market research anticipated a mix of young professionals, young families and Baby Boomers. We’re seeing that customer mix enter our store every day.”
So far, those professionals, families and Baby Boomers have reacted positively to the concept store, said Nascimento. “Almost every day Dash In team members tell us that customers will ask, ‘What kind of gas station is this?’”
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