As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan Dash, Founder and CEO of StoreBound.
Evan Dash is the Founder and CEO of StoreBound, a design and innovation company in the housewares space with multiple brands focusing on home electrics and smart furniture, such as the Dash and Sobro product lines, now being sold at almost every major retailer including Amazon, Target and more.
Prior to StoreBound, Evan had a successful career in department store and big-box retailing and served as the senior vice president/general merchandise manager for the Home business at Macy’s. During his time at Macy’s, he was the youngest member of the Executive Committee to lead the consolidation of seven operating divisions into one centralized buying team, followed by the acquisition and integration of all divisions of The May Department Stores Company into Macy’s. Dash served two terms on the board of directors of the International Housewares Association. He has two teenage sons and lives in New York City with his wife, Rachel.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Pleasure is all mine! I started my career in the Executive Training Program at Lord & Taylor. When I started my career, there were over 100 department store companies in America — which is now crazy to imagine as we’ve had various former department store giants close their doors in recent years. Over the next two decades, I switched companies multiple times and gained experience in almost every product category offered in a department store. Jumping forward, I spent most of my retail career at Macy’s, beginning when they had 70 stores and eventually leaving as the senior vice president for their Home division, where I ran a $2 billion business across almost 800 stores.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My first year in business was by far the most challenging obstacle I’ve had to face to-date. I quickly got an education on how to operate a small business, because in my corporate life, I never had to consider resources or financing. I bought billions of dollars of merchandise without any concern for how to get it to 800 locations on time. For the first year at StoreBound, we built our infrastructure, brainstormed products, and hemorrhaged money, but we had a lot of fun!
At the end of the day, I remind myself that my toughest day as an entrepreneur doesn’t compare to bad days in the corporate world. We are in control of our own destiny, which always creates a feeling of optimism, even on the most difficult days.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Personally, I’m a huge audio book guy and love to keep up with the latest business trends and innovation. I spend a lot of time in the car, so this helps me productively learn while passing the time. I’m currently listening to “The Hero Factor” by Jeffrey Hayzlett who I’ve gotten to know quite well and “Fearless Leadership” by Carey Lohrenz who I also got to meet quite recently. Carey is the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot to land on an aircraft carrier and her story is absolutely amazing!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
There were really two key moments that helped shape my vision and purpose for what Store bound is today. First, while I worked for Macy’s, I met a mother and daughter at a trade show where they were exhibiting a new invention. I spent some time speaking to them and realized how little most people knew about retail — they weren’t aware of how much risk they can unknowingly expose themselves, which truly shocked me. Second, I was at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan watching my kids experience decades of great American inventions. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to take my expertise in product development and retail to help ordinary inventors, designers and creatives bring their own ideas to market. When I started StoreBound, I just wanted to make great things that would enrich people’s lives while working with people who would become my work family.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
It may sound silly, but I always remind myself and others that David vs. Goliath is real. The little guy can beat the giant.
At the end of the day, the responsibility I feel to my team and my family is the greatest motivator when we meet adversity. When meeting adversity, in some cases, I shield my team from it to keep them positive and forward-looking, and in other cases, I use it as a way to rally the troops together to overcome a challenge and celebrate the win. Finding the right balance here is something that I always wrestle with, but at the end of the day I remind myself and them that small businesses can win and make a difference.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Living in New York City has been exceptionally surreal. At the beginning, our neighborhood of the Financial District felt more like a dormant movie set, than bustling economic hub it usually is. I also have very close family ties and having to keep some distance from my parents, my sons and my nieces has been difficult. Like many others we’ve spent a great deal of time on Zoom and Face Time and found activities that we can do together while we’re apart.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As a result of mandated self-isolation, small businesses across the country have been severely impacted. A recent Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,500 small business owners found that more than 50% of them said they didn’t think they could continue operating their businesses for more than three months amid the current conditions caused by the corona virus outbreak. With this shift, small businesses have either had to drastically shift their business models or shutter entirely as a result — for StoreBound, shuttering down was not an option, so instead we shifted and began to work even closer together.
We have a “family lunch” every Monday with the entire staff and I typically take 30 minutes to talk about everything from the current state of our business to my views on the world. Six months ago, if I had told the team we’d be in the midst of a global pandemic, with most of our customers closed and our entire team working from home, they probably would have worried about my mental health.
But today, that’s our reality. And it’s a horrible reality, but I’m proud of how we’ve handled it and I believe our model can be implemented by almost every small business with strong results. To thrive in the future, we need to strengthen our foundation today.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We are constantly checking on our team and our customers. We’ve taken this further by instilling confidence starting with our own team. We pulled everyone together and made it clear there would be no layoffs, furloughs or reductions in compensation. This has allowed the team to tackle their responsibilities without fear for their livelihoods. We’ve communicated abundantly to our customers that we are at full strength and remain willing and able to help them through these tough times. Finally, we’ve stepped up our engagement with the end consumer through social media, taking the time to provide healthy meal prep inspiration, virtual cooking lessons and product giveaways.
We are also checking on all of the other people who make our business and the communities they serve continue to operate. We’ve used our supply chain to procure and donate PPE supplies to front lines medical workers. We’ve donated our food prep products to food banks. We’ve shifted more work to our manufacturers and distribution center so they would be able to keep all of their people employed. We’ve also embraced influencers to get our “Eat Good Feel Good” messaging out to the end consumer.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We’re visualizing our business thriving again and taking the steps necessary to position our company for the Post-COVID normal. While others in our industry are furloughing employees or fumbling through harnessing a distributed workforce effectively, we set our sights on two simple objectives to focus our efforts on every day. 1) Put more distance between us and our competitors and 2) make our communities and our country a better place. As an entrepreneur, I feel a tremendous responsibility to everyone who has helped us along the way and making it a mission to show gratitude to those people is both good for business and the soul.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
People are the key to our success. This was true before but will reign in stronger in the Post-COVID world. At Storebound, we have built an enthusiastic team of individuals who care about the team and our results. We are constantly striving to inspire the consumer and improve our results. We’ve been proud of the workplace we’ve built in our NYC headquarters and we’ve tried to replicate as much of that in the “virtual” world as possible. To have my team fully engaged and thriving from behind their screens was no easy task, but one that I’ll find incredibly rewarding for years to come.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Obviously, sales growth and running a financially-healthy business are important, but our success is defined by winning hearts — the hearts of our employees, our customers, and the consumer. The more we win hearts, the easier growth and profitability will come in the Post-COVID economy.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Truthfully, take “expert” advice with a grain of salt. There is no playbook for these times and business leaders need to step-up more than ever. I always recommend being honest with yourself, always. Ensure that what you are building is what the customer really wants and not just what you are enamored with. Once you are sure, trust your convictions and outperforming the competition will come naturally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Throughout my personal life and professional career, many life lessons have helped shape me into the entrepreneur and leader I am today. But hands down, the most impactful and relevant to my life is a quote from my father, “If nothing good can come of it, don’t do it.” Whenever I’m about to do something impulsive, I hear that voice in my head.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can stay informed on our latest Dash innovations by visiting https://bydash.com/ or connecting with me personally via LinkedIn. Our company Instagram is @unprocessyourfood and Twitter is @cookwithdash.