$1 or less; the $16 billion industry that charges one dollar at a time

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Do you shop at the dollar store? If you’re like most Americans, you love an occasional trip to the store where everything is $1, 99 cents, or even less! Here are some interesting facts about the big business of the stores with such small prices:

There are actually three models for dollar stores:

Dollar Tree is a true dollar store, where everything costs $1

Then there are stores where everything costs 99 cents or less with no exceptions, like the popular 99 Cents Only outlets. (Although that company has started offering products up to 99.99 cents recently.

Finally, there are stores that have “dollar” in the name, and do offer some merchandise for $1, are usually just discount stores.

Dollar Tree is one of the most popular names in the discount store space. Located in Chesapeake, Va., there are 13,600 Dollar Tree stores in 48 states and 5 in Canada.

Speaking of Canada, at the Dollar Tree stores in that country, everything isn’t actually a dollar, but $1.25 because of the currency exchange rate. In fact, their actual slogan is ‘Everything’s $1.25’ even though it’s called a dollar store!

Other popular stores in the U.S. include:

Dollar Generals (12,400 locations)

Family Dollars (8,000 locations)

99¢ Cent Only Stores (394 locations)

Combined, these dollar and discount stores have more branches than all of the CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid locations in the entire U.S.!

Considering that there are 4,177 Walmarts in the U.S., that means Dollar Tree and Dollar General each have about three times as many stores as the mega-retailer, and even Family Dollar almost doubles Walmarts number of stores.

Despite their humble presentation and rock-bottom prices, dollar stores are serious money makers. In fact, the dollar store sector brings in about $16 billion every year, which is more than the recorded music industry!

Other their price points on the items they sell, there are two other ways that dollar stores pad their profit margins; they are typically located in less than prime retail locations which offer lower rent or lease costs. Dollar stores also spend absolutely no money on marketing or promotion, saving a ton of money.

Everyone loves to save money, and that’s why these stores target different segments of the population with the same benefit. For instance, Dollar Tree targets customers that live in suburban locations, while Family Dollar targets low and lower middle-income households in rural and urban areas.

Most people don’t even know about one of the absolute best values at these dollar stores – their business delivery services. In fact, Dollar Tree’s business plan is cheaper than competing warehouse clubs like Costco, Sams, etc. and you don’t have to pay a membership fee. Dollar Tree’s business direct plan focuses on serving industries like florists and gift shops, Restaurants and bars, wedding and event planners, nursing homes, hospital and care facilities, and cleaning and janitorial services. If you own a business, try them out!

Another great feature that most of the dollar stores offer is online purchasing and in-store pickup. So you can order anything you want from their extensive online catalog (without combing through the stores and looking for the items or hoping they have enough in stock), and they’ll be packed and ready for you to pick up at the store of your choice.

When purchasing online, also look for the Bonus Buys section on Dollar Tree’s website (or similar sections for the other retailers). There you can find all sorts of products for $1 but with a second bonus product thrown in for free!

While the allure of only paying a dollar (or 99 cents) motivates consumers to stock up in abundance, not everything is a great deal at the dollar stores. In fact, a Fox reporter recently did a survey and found that 8 of the 10 items she bought at a Dollar Tree were actually less expensive at her local supermarket.

One of the ways that Dollar Trees makes more money on their products with a lower price tag is by offering smaller sizes – such as 10 trash bags instead of 25, 10 oz. of candy instead of 16 oz, etc. So always pay attention to the price per ounce – not the total unit price – to make sure you’re really saving money.

Typically, here are the best values at dollar stores:

$1 cleaner

The dollar store’s LA’s Totally Awesome brand of concentrated cleaner is very effective, working on 43 different types of surfaces. Even better, it’s environmentally safe, earning an ‘A’ from the Environmental Working Group.

The same is true for bleach, ammonia, and other cleaning products they carry.

$1 steaks

Seriously! Dollar Tree stocks $1 rib eye steaks in its freezer section from time to time. The steaks are from the brand Stampede, which is carried in other major grocery stores but just in smaller portion sizes in the dollar store.

Gift wrap, holiday and birthday cards, and party supplies

These items are about 75% cheaper than in supermarkets or CVS and Walgreens stores.

Holiday decorations

The same is true for seasonal and holiday decorations, with Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc. swag far less expensive for a dollar.

Resealable plastic containers

Whether it’s Gladware, Ziploc, Rubbermaid, or Tupperware, it’s all cheaper at the dollar store.

Coloring books, crayons, pencils, colored paper, and other school supplies are also far cheaper at dollar stores.

How about batteries? While they definitely won’t last as long as name brand batteries you find in other stores, considering that they’re only $1 (instead of $5-$6) for a pack of 4 AA batteries, they’re still 80% cheaper for the same charge.

Shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant, and toothpaste, etc. is all a bargain at dollar stores.

Candles and tea lights are also ridiculously inexpensive at dollar stores.

Glasses, cups, and mugs are a bargain at dollar stores –especially for non-breaking or plastic models that are perfect for informal parties or outdoor use.

Things NOT to buy at Dollar Stores:

Avoid buying plug-in electronics or night lights, extension cords, etc. as they might not adhere to minimum safety requirements.

Kitchen utensils, pots and pans, and frying pans will be very cheaply made and break easily – or even be unsafe. The same goes for oven mitts.

Likewise, the tools (hammers, screwdrivers, etc.) that they sell at dollar stores are made cheaply and can break or malfunction quickly.

Dollar stores are definitely not the place to buy vitamins, supplements, and any medicines or pharmaceuticals, as they have been found to sometimes be expired, missing ingredients, or worse – counterfeit.

It’s probably not a good idea to buy toys for young children at dollar stores. They may be priced right, but there can be problems with lead or other safety issues.

Non-name brand aluminum foil, cling wrap, and storage bags are usually cheaply made and not a great bargain at dollar stores.

Buying soda at the dollar store isn’t as good of a bargain as you may think, as they usually sell one-liter bottles, while you can get a two-liter bottle at the local grocery store for just a little bit more.

So out of all the tens of thousands of items that dollar stores and 99 cent stores sell, which items receive the highest ratings from consumers?

Their disposable razors (Personna Twin Blade Plus Disposable Razors, 5-ct. Packs) for $1 receive 91% satisfaction marks and cost only 1/6th that of competing brands.

And the dollar store brand of home pregnancy tests (the Assured Ovulation Predictor) for $1 has the same exact ingredients as expensive laboratory models, and 86% of reviewers would recommend it to a friend!


What are some of your favorite items at the dollar store?


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