Joe Dash was born into the grocery business. As a child, he lived in an apartment above his father’s first grocery store on Buffalo’s East Side. He and his family were Tops franchisees for 40 years until 2001, when Dash bought two former B-Kwik stores in North Buffalo and Kenmore from his father and turned them into Dash’s Markets, returning to the name his grandmother used for a small grocery in the 1920s. Today, there are two more Dash’s locations, in Clarence and East Amherst.
Q: How has the retail landscape changed over the years?
A: It has changed dramatically. There are a lot more players going after the supermarket dollar. You have all the big box retailers selling groceries, all the major drug chains selling groceries. There’s been an advent of plain Jane boxes like ALDI, Save-A-Lot and Price Rite that have come into the area with a lot of stores and they’re a significant factor.
Q: How has your business changed to keep up with it?
A: I saw a need for smaller, upscale markets in a little stronger demographics that would kind of bring back that old-fashioned shopping. Back when my grandmother was around you would have the butcher and the baker and the produce guy under different roofs. We brought it all under one roof and that’s how we go to market.
Q: What’s next for you guys?
A: We need to do something in North Buffalo. We haven’t been able to do anything in our existing Hertel Avenue store because I don’t control enough real estate to do it. But addressing that would be our next move.
Eventually I’d like to do something further in the city on Elmwood Avenue. I think it would be a good fit for what we do and for the people living in the city. And we’re always getting solicited from the people in Orchard Park and East Aurora. Every week we have half a dozen requests to put a store out there, so that’s on the table.
Q: What might people be surprised to learn about the grocery business?
A: You really have to micromanage every item. You have to be really diligent with detail and you have to be perceptive to the changes in the market because it’s always changing.
Q: How hard would it be for someone to start from scratch and open a mom and pop store today?
A: Very difficult. Very capital intensive. To market and advertise a one-unit facility is very expensive. You don’t have the synergies of other locations. To develop a strong team, I mean we have 700 years of experience at the top of our company. We’ve been at it a long, long time. For a ma-and-pa guy to get in business today I would imagine the chances at success are zero to none. It’s hard.
Q: How do you find good employees?
A: Unless somebody comes with some really great culinary expertise, we don’t go to the outside. We bring them up right from the ground. This way, too, they understand our culture and what we’re all about. Our success rate of doing that is a lot better than going to the outside.
Q: What are some of the challenges dealing with customers?
A: I don’t know if there’s a challenge. You just gotta give them what they want. They’re in the driver’s seat. Quality is paramount, price is secondary and they just want a good shopping experience. They want good service, they want a clean store. They don’t want a rain check or out of stocks.
They have a lot of choices. There’s a lot of great operators in the market. If you don’t meet that standard, you’re not going to grow or be successful.
Q: How do you hold down prices with only four stores?
A: Our major supplier is Olean Wholesale. We’re part of a co-op with a couple hundred members. Then we deal with probably 150 to 200 individual vendors, many local. So we have an avenue to have our vendors compete for our business.
There’s not a lot of independents left out there, so the wholesalers who take care of the independents are pretty aggressive. They’re shopping for as much business as they can do. We’re offered some great deals and we pass them all on to our customers.
Q: Do your kids plan to take over someday?
A: They have a passion for it. They’re still young but I hope and believe they will become the fourth generation of grocers. They work hard, all three of them.
Q: How do ups and downs in the economy affect what people buy?
A: They trade down. What we saw with the recession was a change in our mix. Maybe instead of buying a steak they would buy ground beef or chicken – something that was more of a value or cost less per pound. They’ll shop our ads heavier. We would see smaller baskets and more visits. They would shop for a day or two at a time and then come back and shop for the next couple of days.
Q: You have 550 employees. How do you see the Affordable Care Act affecting business?
A: Well, right now, we pay 100 percent of health care for all of our full-time associates. That’s been that way since Day One. We had 12 to 15 people that were in that 30-hour range where they’re calling it full-time now so we talked to each associate about what their needs were going forward. Some people elected to work a few less hours a week, a handful we took from 30 hours to 40 hours and took care of their health care.
Strategically, we didn’t eliminate anybody or try to beat the system. I think we’ve been a great employer since Day One. I think the guys out there that haven’t been that way are going to feel a significant impact in what’s coming down the road.