Dollar General: Coming to a Community Near You!

They started out as a small, family owned retailer and gradually began to spread beyond its small town roots to towns across America. Along the way they changed the company’s name and quickly became known for offering low prices on a wide variety of items. Consumers flock to them and they are opening more stores annually in the US than any other retailer. I’m talking about Wal-Mart, right? No, Dollar General! Let’s take a closer look at another one of America’s retail success stories, the Dollar General Corporation.

J.L. Turner was a man toughened by life’s difficulties who founded what was later to become Dollar General with his son, Cal. At the age of 11, his father died and young J.L. soon found himself out of school and working to support his family. By the age of 17 he was married and operating a bridle shop with his wife. Later, he opened a country store but had to give that business up when prices dropped along with his profits. Soon thereafter he began to work for a dry goods wholesaler and, later, he bought and liquated bankrupt general stores during the Great Depression.

By 1939, J.L. and Cal decided to plunk down $5,000 each to start J.L Turner and Sons Wholesale store in Kentucky. In 1955 a new idea was born – the dollar store – and all the stores in their growing fold soon were converted and the Dollar General name was born. The company went public in 1968 and today it operates over 7550 stores in 30 states with more than 700 added in 2004 alone.

So, what kind of items can you find at Dollar General? A good variety! The store reminds me of another retailer, now defunct — Woolworth’s — in that they carry a little bit of everything. Do you need greeting cards? Excellent quality cards are sold for the unheard of low price of 2 for $1. Seasonal items such as coolers, plastic benches, folding stools, flags, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, wind chimes, and more are on prominent display. Food items as well as personal care products are carried, many of which have the Dollar General name and have a pre-stamped price right on the product. No, they do not have a complete line of any product, just the bestsellers. Still, the variety is good.

Because Dollar General was founded exclusively as a dollar store, many of their items are still priced at a dollar or less. Fortunately, for consumers, they are not restricted by the ‘one dollar’ limit and other items of greater value are sold too. Do you need sunflower bird seed? $2 per bag. Do you want DG candy? 4 for $1. On a recent visit I made to my nearby Dollar General I noticed many summer items on display outside the store with discount labels of 30% featured. Thus, the $20 molded plastic bench – available in white or hunter green – was now reduced to $14. Although the chain prices their items competitively, marked down items are easily found and quickly snapped up. So, if you see an item reduced and you want it, you better snag it right away!

Dollar General clearly states on their website that they serve lower and lower-middle income customers. Thus, one of their strong sellers is the Dollar General private label found on many products throughout the store. The quality of these items can differ, however. For example, I purchased the DG version of a York Peppermint Patty and can emphatically tell you that York has no fear of DG overtaking them in this category! If it is price you want, then get the DG patty. If it is taste, consistency, and quality you desire, then get the York Peppermint Patty. The store sells both items.

As widespread as the company stores are, you cannot find them in twenty states — yet. All states on the east coast are served except for those in New England. Stores can be found in the upper Midwest and as far west as Wisconsin then down to Texas and over to Arizona. All of the northwest and California, Utah, and Wyoming fall outside of their current service area. Still, the company is able to saturate the market with over 900 stores in Texas alone.

Many small towns that would probably not be served by a larger retailer usually have a Dollar General store present. Thus, the corporation’s commitment to small towns remains important to them, something many of the larger retailers have forgotten about over time.

Do I recommend Dollar General? Yes, because I shop there. No, I don’t purchase many of their store labeled items for reasons mentioned earlier. Still, I like to shop at a store that is small enough to locate much of what I need quickly and at a good price while allowing me to leave without feeling overwhelmed. Apparently, most of their customers feel the same way.