CSN EXCLUSIVE: Dash In Goes All In on Building a Better Experience

Disruption leads to transformation and growth, according to Executive Vice President Mark Samuels.
Angela Hanson
Dash In EVP Mark Samuels
The Wills Group Executive Vice President Mark Samuels

LA PLATA, Md. — Family-owned The Wills Group Inc. spent years developing its Dash In convenience store brand's identity as a neighborhood store that reflects its community, leading to the 2023 opening of a new prototype store in Chantilly, Va. However, rather than view the flagship location as the culmination of its journey, the company is continuing its transformative efforts, with Mark Samuels helping to pave the way as the newly appointed executive vice president of convenience retailing.

"Over the past several years, we have been diligently working on what we would consider a 'disruptive' convenience concept that breaks out of the traditional norms and expectations for c-stores," Samuels, who stepped into the role in October, told Convenience Store News. "Transformation will only happen with disruption."

His new role comes more than 26 years after Samuels' first day with The Wills Group as an area manager for Dash In. Since then, he has continually pushed the Dash In team to examine what convenience retail innovation could look like while leading the company's focus to go above and beyond regarding customer service, according to Wills Group President and CEO Julian B. (Blackie) Wills III.

Samuels, who will lead the Dash In and ECO Car Wash lines of business as well as oversee its continued expansion across the Mid-Atlantic, noted that foodservice is central to, but not the sole focus of the company's plans.

"In short, we want to position Dash In as a restaurant that also sells convenience, fuel and provides car wash services," he said.

The Wills Group plans to standardize its offering using its new prototype facilities and brand identity throughout the Dash In network, and then scale its growth through new, existing and adjacent markets. On the car wash side of the business, Splash In recently added express exterior tunnel washes with monthly membership programs. There are also plans to expand Splash In offerings as both standalone facilities and at Dash In locations.

"What is most important for me in my new role within the organization is to prepare my team and other key stakeholders for the rapid growth we are about to embark on, and then execute at a very high level," Samuels said.

Dash In's foodservice program, which earned the company the Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year award in CSNews' 2023 Foodservice Innovators Awards program, will be a big part of that growth, as it serves as the "backbone" of the brand. The new menu will be deployed to all locations, but this won't be a one-and-done. Continued menu iteration will be based on guest preferences and food trends.

"When our guests think of Dash In, we want them to think of it as 'their place' to get great food on the go," Samuels said. "What separates us from others is that our wholesome menu is made from fresh ingredients, right in our kitchens, every day by our team members."

Another noteworthy aspect of the Dash in menu is that despite its large size and expansive customization options, the company typically does not see one item outperform others. "They all earn their spot on the menu every day," noted Samuels. 

He envisions Dash In finding success through achieving the right balance. As he explained,  the brand "is our guests' local, neighborhood store that is large enough to have what the guest needs, but small enough to create engaging experiences with our team members. Delivering a best-in-class guest interaction that makes our guest's day a bit better is our North Star."

Upcoming in-store enhancements include an all-new fresh bakery program with pastries and cookies baked onsite, as well as an offering that lets guests customize smoothies, shakes, frappes and more. Outside, the company will continue to lean into its membership program at both express exterior Splash In locations and its network of 50-plus in-bay automatic washes, along with a recent upgraded chemistry program that offers triple protection and "unparalleled shine" for vehicles.

Overall, Dash In is taking a big-picture approach to its customer experience goals.

"We want to build trust with our guests and with that trust, expand our relationship with them to include food, fuel and car wash in one convenient stop," Samuels said.

Founded in 1926 and headquartered in La Plata, The Wills Group operates nearly 300 retail locations across the Mid-Atlantic region, including the Dash In, Splash In ECO Car Wash and SMO Motor Fuels banners. 

Dash In currently operates more than 55 locations throughout Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.

About the Author

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson is Senior Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2011. Angela spearheads most of CSNews’ industry awards programs and authors numerous special news reports. In 2016, she took over the foodservice beat, a critical category for the c-store industry. 

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