Dollar stores are on the rise.
Dollar Tree is a leading dollar store chain that operates over 15,100 stores in the US and Canada under the brands Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree Canada.
The company, which is practically neck-and-neck with Dollar General in terms of store count and annual sales, had its same-store sales increase in the second quarter by 2.4%.
Unlike Dollar General, almost every item in Dollar Tree stores goes for $1. However, the company is testing adding more expensive merchandise to some stores to boost sales with its Dollar Tree Plus! initiative.
We visited Dollar Tree stores in a city in New Jersey and a suburb in Florida to compare the shopping experiences. The difference between the two stores we visited was so stark, we could hardly believe they were part of the same chain. Overall, the store in Hollywood, Florida was better for two key reasons: organization and cleanliness.
That's for good reason, as dollar stores tend to cut back on store staff to keep prices low.
Here's what we saw:
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We walked a few minutes down a bustling Jersey City, New Jersey street until we reached the store.
The red brick exterior of the building looked promising, so we made our way into the store, ready to find some deals.
The interior was slightly underwhelming at first glance. The bright lighting and simple shelving structures were nothing special. Plus, the floor looked like it hadn't been washed in a while.
If that wasn't enough, the disorganized display table at the front of the store made it clear we weren't in for a high-end shopping experience.
Our first stop was at the Halloween section at the front of the store, where we found some spooky costumes and decorations.
However, the scariest part of this section was by far the mess.
There were boxes and pieces of trash everywhere we looked. We even found an open can of Pepsi on one of the more chaotic shelves.
We quickly realized that this mess was not confined to one section. Everywhere we looked, there were piles of boxes sitting around unattended.
On the whole, the store looked like it was in the middle of the unloading process, though it didn't seem like there were so many employees on the floor to get it done.
Despite the mess, we continued shopping. The hardware and home improvement section had some great items that were surprisingly organized.
The party-goods section was scant, but if you weren't craving variety, it got the job done.
We also stopped by the scented candle section in the back of the store and picked up an apple and vanilla-scented candle for $1.
We tried to continue through the store, but in some cases, the mess made it almost impossible to navigate.
We found a wall of boxes in almost every aisle we walked though.
Sometimes, we couldn't even see over the mass of cardboard to the other side of the aisle.
In some cases, the boxes were precariously placed in a way that made them look like they were ready to topple over any second.
Where there was no mess to be found, sometimes the shelves were almost completely empty.
To be sure, there were parts of the store that were cleaner than others. This aisle of Halloween candy was one of the few aisles we enjoyed walking through.
We found a messier section of candy nearby, but we were thankful for all the name-brand products available for just $1.
We even picked up this bag of miniature Reese's Cups.
We also found a 12-pack of plastic red party cups, which we also picked up for $1.
Dollar Tree's biggest advantage was probably its wide variety of name-brand products available for just $1.
But this store's biggest disadvantage was the mess. The mess wasn't simply an inconvenience — it distracted from the experience as a whole and pervaded every section, from freezer ...
... to the checkout. This section probably had the worst mess we had encountered in the store.
Despite the mess, we left the Jersey City Dollar Tree happy with the purchases we had made.
Though we were pleased with the offerings overall, we wondered if the crazy mess we had seen was just to be expected from a Dollar Tree located on a busy street in New Jersey's second-largest city.
Next, we traveled to the sunny city of Hollywood, Florida where we got to check out a Dollar Tree in a more suburban atmosphere.
The store was located in a strip mall near a large suburban Florida community. Just one look at the bright exterior made it clear we were in for a completely different shopping experience.
This Dollar Tree was a breath of fresh air, thanks to the obvious organization and cleanliness that was apparent the moment we entered.
We found the same white display table at the front of the store, but it was nicely stocked with different seasonal items.
The Halloween section here was nothing like the disaster we had seen in Jersey City. The great selection and organized displays made this section spooky for all the right reasons.
There was also a similarly organized section of Christmas decorations.
Though this Dollar Tree carried a lot of same items and brands as the store in Jersey City, the difference in presentation and variety was astounding. There were a lot more options in the party-goods section ...
... and most of the aisles looked as organized and clear as this one.
Like in Jersey City, there was a sizable greeting card section here ...
... as well as a nice selection of scented candles.
The candy section here looked almost identical to the one we had seen in Jersey City.
We did find some unexpected offerings here, like this beautiful selection of fake flowers ...
... and a charmingly decorated section devoted to supplies for teachers.
Nearby, we even found a deal for two-colored poster boards for $1.
The food section was set up so perfectly, that it was hard to find any item out of place.
We enjoyed perusing through these off-brand bottles of soda.
Though we did find some name-brand products as well.
Overall, we could not believe the difference in the level of organization between the two stores.
To be sure, there were still messes to be found. But they were minimal and not nearly as distracting as the ones we had witnessed in the Jersey City Dollar Tree.
And most of the time, the clutter was confined to a space or a corner.
This Dollar Tree seemed to have it all. The store was organized and there were great offerings — like these cute wine glasses — for super low prices.
Walking through this Dollar Tree made us realize that we shouldn't have to sacrifice store experience for value.
However, an issue with this location was the checkout line, which was rather long for a Friday morning. We even overheard customers complaining to the cashiers about the line.
We left this Dollar Tree with a new mindset about dollar stores in general. If done right, they can be a great place to shop at a discount without having to suffer through a messy store.
The Florida Dollar Tree was the better experience by a long shot. But despite the mess in the Jersey City Dollar Tree, we'd still shop there if there were no other options nearby.