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Dwell Direct brings a food-truck concept to D.C.’s rental market

Dwell Direct uses a food-truck concept to advertise apartments at farmers markets, festivals and other places renters might be. (photo courtesy JBG companies)

If you’ve strolled through any of the D.C. area’s farmers markets over the past few months, you might have gone home with fresh peaches, ripe tomatoes, crisp apples or a new apartment.

That’s because since April, a bright blue truck called Dwell Direct (@DwellDirect) has been rolling up to local farmers markets, festivals and street corners.

The JBG Companies, the real-estate developer behind the truck, call their creation a “mobile real-estate experience.”

From a distance, it looks like a food truck, but there’s no food.

Inside, where a kitchen might be, there’s a swanky interior replete with a 60-inch touch screen that shows off JBG-owned apartment buildings — and some JBG condos — nearby. If your feet are tired from wandering through the market or festival, you can sit on a couch-bench hybrid and grab one of the available iPads to scroll through details about each community. JBG staffers are on hand to answer questions about the buildings, give you free Dwell Direct sunglasses or put you in touch with a leasing agent.

The idea, says Tiffany Butcher, JBG’s head of residential asset management, is to take a food-truck concept and apply it to the apartment market to create “a mobile one-stop shop for apartment hunting.”
Like many innovations, this one came from employees. In April 2014, teams of JBG employees participated in an in-house competition to come up with an innovative new idea. The winning team pitched Dwell Direct.

“Their pitch was it was a creative way we could make a real splash in the apartment market,” Butcher says.

The mobility wasn’t just a gimmick. In D.C.’s hyper-competitive apartment market, the team was trying to find a way to meet potential renters outside of their leasing offices. Since large apartment buildings are notoriously difficult to move around town, they turned to a truck.

“It allows us to go to farmers markets. It allows us to festivals. It allows us to go all these places and engage with people who might not otherwise have had this opportunity,” Butcher says.

The mobility means that JBG can show off its properties in specific neighborhoods. So, just as an ice cream truck rotates flavors, Dwell Direct rotates the properties it highlights. At the Pike Central Farm Market in Rockville, the truck can advertise The Alaire and The Terano, two apartment complexes about two miles — and one Metro stop — away from the market. At the U Street Funk Parade, the company can promote the new Atlantic Plumbing property nearby, and while parked outside the Brookland Metro station, JBG can tell commuters about the Fort Totten Square property that’s one Metro stop away.

Of course, not everyone is thinking about leasing a new apartment while they’re at a festival, which makes the truck’s impact hard to determine.

The company does track how many of those who come to Dwell Direct end up renting an apartment they find there. They won’t share the numbers but call the program a success.

It’s as much about brand and buzz as it is about inking leases. Some apartment-hunters “interact with the truck and then a month or two or three later start their search,” Butcher says. “It’s done a great job and been very successful in creating buzz, in particular around new properties.”