Bucking the big box (a buck at a time)
The buck stretches here.Shoppers at Family Dollar in Carbondale are joining a nationwide boom of bargain hunters who are turning to dollar stores as an alternative to big-box retailers.
The dollar store concept has been around for decades – Family Dollar opened its first store in 1959 in Charlotte, N.C. – but they are suddenly a hot segment of the retail economy. Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio-based management consulting and market research firm, predicts 8,000 more dollar stores will open nationwide in the next five years.The biggest player in the genre, Dollar General, claims nearly 7,500 stores in 30 states and reported $6.9 million in sales last year.Family Dollar operates more than 5,600 stores in 44 states and reported $5.2 million in net sales for its last fiscal year, which concluded in August 2004. That’s up 11.2 percent from the previous year. And, it was tallied with merchandise that is generally priced at $10 or less.The chain, a fixture on the Front Range, recently expanded onto Colorado’s Western Slope and more outlets are planned. But for now, Carbondale boasts the only dollar store in the Roaring Fork Valley, though Rifle has one as well.
“Don’t put my name in the paper. I don’t want anyone to know I’m here,” said a Glenwood Springs shopper, her arms loaded with Family Dollar purchases on a recent Sunday afternoon. “I love dollar stores.”Her anonymous companion was similarly tempted by the selection of items priced in dollar and 25 cent increments (plus sales tax).”I didn’t come for anything, but I’ve got candy, peanuts and a couple of sponges,” she admitted.The store’s formula is simple: no-frills shopping, limited selection and discount prices in a space that’s a fraction of the daunting size of a big-box chain like Wal-Mart.
“What we’re hearing more than anything from local people is they didn’t have to drive to Glenwood. They’re saving drive time,” said manager Jeff Domingue.El Jebel residents Patti Moore and Steve Gallagher were headed to Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs when they decided to jump off the bus at Carbondale instead.Moore paid frequent visits to the Carbondale store, which opened last November, in the pre-Christmas shopping season. On a recent weekend, she was loading up on household goods and toiletries, but couldn’t resist adding a wind chime to her purchases. The store was offering $1 and $3 versions of the latter.”I would have spent $30 [elsewhere] on this stuff,” she said. “It’s always made a difference to me at the checkout.”Family Dollar has eight huge warehouses nationwide, according to its website. Purchasing items in bulk to supply more than 5,000 stores facilitates the discounted prices, according to Domingue. Product manufacturers, acknowledging the trend, have started producing specially sized products specifically for the dollar store market, noted Retail Forward.
Shoppers may find comparable prices at a big box, but the household products can be less expensive at Family Dollar than they are at, for example, a local supermarket – “sometimes a lot cheaper,” Domingue said.The store carries a limited selection of nonperishable foods, non-name brand clothing and shoes, toys, assorted knickknacks, bedding and more, including the popular household products and toiletries that are its mainstay. But shoppers can also find 2-for-$1 greeting cards, for example.A cursory price check indicates there are deals to be found at Family Dollar, compared to City Market in Carbondale and Aspen. But occasionally, the grocers offer the more competitive price.Family Dollar offered a 12-ounce box of Ritz crackers for $2, for example. The same item was $3.49 at both the City Market stores. A 32-ounce bottle of the sports drink Powerade was priced at $1 at Family Dollar, $1.13 at the Carbondale City Market and $1.69 at the Aspen City Market. A 16-ounce box of Cap’n Crunch cereal was $2.50 at Family Dollar and $3.29 at the grocery stores.
A Fruit of the Loom three-pack of men’s cotton briefs was $3.50 at Family Dollar and $9.99 at Carl’s Pharmacy in Aspen.Tide laundry detergent (100 fluid ounces with bleach alternative) fetched $6.50 at Family Dollar and $7.99 at the two City Market locales.But in other cases, City Market offered the better deal. Pantene hair-care products, for example, were $4 a bottle at Family Dollar, but City Market was offering a three-for-$9 deal to shoppers with the chain’s Value Card (regular price: $5.35). A four-pack of Angel Soft toilet paper was $2 at Family Dollar. City Market shoppers could get it for $1.19 with the Value Card, but the regular price was $1.55 – still cheaper than the Family Dollar price.Huggies diapers (the 34-pack) was going for $9.50 at Family Dollar; at the Carbondale City Market, the price was $8.99 with the Value Card and $11.49 without it.
Dollar stores have long been a haven for low-income households, but stingy shoppers aren’t limited to the financially struggling, according to Retail Forward. Based on its consumer survey, the consulting firm estimates roughly one-third (36 percent) of all U.S. households regularly shop at a dollar store. Consumers cite the genre’s pricing strategy, neighborhood convenience and the lack of temptations offered by, say, the Wal-Mart Supercenter, as appealing.”I think that’s another thing,” agreed Family Dollar shopper Steve Gallagher. “I can go crazy at Wal-Mart.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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