How being a firefighter taught Evan Dash everything he needed to know about the retail business

The Dash brand has sold over 21 million mini waffle makers with a social media strategy that includes an in-house content studio.
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Andrew Adam Newman

4 min read

Sometimes it takes a big leap to make a small appliance.

Take, for example, the Dash mini waffle maker, which cooks a single four-inch waffle.

On a recent spring afternoon, Evan Dash, co-founder and CEO of StoreBound, which owns the brand, sat at a conference table in the company’s bustling headquarters in Manhattan’s Financial District. He held one of the waffle makers and explained how it came to be.

Dash and his wife, Rachel, StoreBound’s co-founder and chief strategy officer, were at a trade show in Germany in 2012 when they saw a little pizzelle maker.

“And Rachel said, ‘What about a mini waffle maker?’” he told Retail Brew. “And I said, ‘It’ll never sell.’ Flat out, I just dismissed it.”

But she persisted, and an employee they’d brought along to the trade show sketched what Dash called a “cute, bubbly design,” of the waffle maker they’d ultimately introduce in 2015.

“And lo and behold, it was like gangbusters out of the gate,” Dash said. “People saw it and absolutely flipped.”

  • More than 21 million of the devices have been sold.
  • The hashtag #dashminiwafflemaker has 23 million views on TikTok.
  • It has more than 186,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.

The Evan Dash who acknowledged his initial impulse was wrong and deferred to his team is not the same Evan Dash who previously was SVP of Macy’s home store, he said.

“When I worked at Macy’s, you’d have to open both doors for me to fit through with my head—I had this giant ego,” Dash said. “I thought I knew everything because everybody just ‘yessed’ me to death...And I’ve just learned along the way that I’ve got to put my preconceived notions to the side [and] listen to the team.”

Putting out fires: Dropping out of school may be romanticized with entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but Dash doesn’t glorify his college experience.

“I failed out,” Dash said. “Twice.”

Dash worked as a firefighter in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for six years, eventually earning enough part-time credits to graduate. He got an interview for a job in the executive training program at Lord & Taylor, but it did not start well.

“He could not have been more bored,” Dash said of the interviewer. “And I just could see that there’s no chance I was going to get this job.”

Then his interviewer asked how he handled stress.

“And I said, ‘Well, are you talking about office stress?’” Dash recalled. “‘Or the kind of stress I experienced in the fire department where it’s two in the morning, and you pull up in front of a house fire and somebody’s pulling on your jacket, saying, “My baby’s inside.’”

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As a firefighter, “you have to be able to not have tunnel vision,” he continued in the job interview. “You have to plan [and] strategize, but then assess how things are going and change up and make sure you’re communicating all the way through.”

After what his interviewer said next, Dash was hired.

“He was just like, ‘Oh my God, being a fireman is like being a buyer,’” Dash said. “‘It’s like being in retail.’”

Getting cooking: The first Dash brand product, a juice extractor, was introduced in 2012.

The brand targets younger consumers, often with small products like the waffle maker and a “ridiculously cute” mini toaster oven ideal for dorm rooms or studio apartments.

“We design everything for a younger audience, and younger people tend to live smaller,” Dash said.

The company eschews paid advertising, investing instead in producing social media from the studios in their New York headquarters, with a content team led by Claybourne Elder, an actor who has performed on Broadway and TV.

Dashing ahead: At a company-wide meeting on that recent afternoon, employees munched on a catered lunch, as Dash gave a presentation about company news and goals.

He showed a still from a TikTok video where a user stores her collection of Dash mini waffle makers in a cupboard in a rectangular basket.

As the brand launches more expensive products with a bigger footprint, including a new rapid cold brew coffee maker, Dash told his team they’ll suit their core customers as they mature.

“We want to evolve as our customer evolves,” Dash told the group. “They fell in love with us at retailers like Urban Outfitters where they were still spending their parents’ money.”

But now that many of those mini waffle maker lovers are getting married and buying houses, “we want to be there where they’re going,” Dash said.

And that could mean a more valued spot in kitchens.

“We’re going to be [in] more than just the drawer,” Dash proclaimed. “We are going to earn that spot on the countertop.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.