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Dollar Store Merchandise was Last modified: April 17, 2018; "Next Update May 1st 2018"!!
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While her son, Braydon, 3, perused the toy section, Barnes ticked off a quick shopping list of toys, cleaning supplies, greeting cards and other household items she buys at the dollar store instead of the supermarket to help save money.

"It's a great store. We come here a lot because it's cheap, especially with the economy," Barnes said, watching as Braydon stabbed at the air with a plastic sword. "And, he's still at the age where I can get away with the $1 toys."

Business is good at the major dollar stores these days.

Like Barnes, the slow economy and rising prices are causing many consumers to stretch their buck as far as possible, and what better place to do that than a dollar store?

"In tougher times, consumers tend to be more price and value conscious and trade down into the dollar store space," said Patrick McKeever, a senior analyst with MKM Partners in Greenwich, Conn. "Inflation is making the single price-point store all that much more attractive to consumers. Here, prices don't go up, and people appreciate that."

Stores buck retail trend

Dollar stores cater to lower income groups. Some stores offer the same price point on all items — 99 cents or $1 — while others have various low prices on their items. The stores range from small independent operations such as 99 Cents Plus & Beauty Supply in Boca Raton to giant chains including Family Dollar, which has stores in 44 states.

Rick McAllister, president and chief executive of the Florida Retail Federation, said the dollar stores are typically found in smaller communities or urban neighborhoods because they can offer a discount shopping experience for towns that may not be able to support a larger discount store such as a Target, Kmart or Wal-Mart.

Although a bad economy means that customers in the lowest economic bracket will not be able to shop at the dollar stores as often as before, McKeever said those customers are being replaced by others who are coming to discount retailers instead of buying items at more expensive or higher-end stores.

"Dollar store trends are much healthier than other areas of retail right now," McKeever said. He said many of the dollar store chains are seeing 2 percent to 3 percent same-store sales growth — a key measure for retail stores — whereas some of their more high-end brethren are seeing growth declines of as much as 8 percent.

Indeed, Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General, which is now privately held, said this month that its second quarter same-store sales increased 10.1 percent on increased customer traffic and higher average transaction amounts, and that its quarterly sales increased 11.2 percent from second quarter 2007.

Similarly, Chesapeake, Va.-based Dollar Tree (Nasdaq: DLTR) said in August that its second quarter same-store sales increased 6.5 percent and its revenue rose 12.5 percent from a year earlier as consumers turned to its stores in a tight economy.

However, rising inflation also means that a buck doesn't go as far as it used to for dollar stores trying to keep their prices low.

Surging gasoline prices means restocking stores far from distribution centers becomes a headache. Higher commodity costs means buying items that used to be a dollar is suddenly more expensive.

That inflation is driving some of the smaller, locally owned stores out of the 99 cents or $1 price range — and out of business.

"I can't sell anything for a dollar now. Almost everything in the store is now $1.29 or $1.49," said Mushtaq Sajwani, manager of 99˘ Plus & Beauty Supply in Boca Raton. "Nobody wants to buy here if it's more expensive.

"Look around: There's nobody inside the store now," he added.

Tricks of the dollar store trade

But the bigger dollar store chains have long been used to working to keep prices low, and have more leverage when it comes to keeping costs down. As the economy continues to spiral downward, these companies are quickly adopting new tricks or stepping up their usual techniques for keeping prices low.

For instance, Josh Braverman, spokesman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE: FDO), said his company has begun making sure its delivery trucks are full and consolidating trips to mitigate rising fuel costs.

Some stores, such as Family Dollar and Dollar General, sell many of their items for more than $1, which means they have a little more wiggle room as prices on commodities go up. Family Dollar, for instance, is offering a 10-pack of socks for $6.

Single price-point merchants such as Dollar Tree and 99˘ Only Stores (NYSE: NDN) have added challenges, because they must either find a way to continue selling items for only 99 cents or $1, or change their business model.

A few weeks ago, 99˘ Only Stores, which is based in City of Commerce, Calif., and does not have any locations in Florida, announced its first-ever price increase of the items it carries — from 99 cents to .9999.

"This nearly one cent price raise will help 99˘ Only Stores offset some of the increased costs of doing business, including higher fuel and commodity costs," Chief Executive Officer Eric Schiffer said in a statement, describing 99˘ Only Stores as "America's inflation fighter."

Dollar Tree, in comparison, has used other solutions to keep costs down.

It has had to remove certain items, such as motor oil, that got too expensive, spokeswoman Chelle Davis said. Other items, such as Tic Tacs and Frito Lay chips, are often replaced with private-label alternatives. A batteries package was redesigned to be cheaper and to hold one less battery. And a children's bouncy ball is now shipped deflated from the company that sells them and later inflated at Dollar Tree's distribution center to cut down on freight costs.

Davis said getting all the logistics to work is a science, but added that Dollar Tree has been doing this since it opened.

"We definitely think we're right for the times, and know how to offer the things people need for a cheap price," Davis said.

And analysts are optimistic about how the dollar stores will continue to fare.

"They are in a good position as customers trade down," said Karen Short, senior consumer analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. "They are allowing consumers to stretch their paycheck."



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Last modified: April 17, 2018