Dollar stores are on the rise. Some chains, it seems, are doing better than others.
Dollar General is doing particularly well. The company plans to open 975 new stores and remodel 1,000 existing stores. Its net sales increased by 8.4% in the second quarter.
Dollar Tree is practically neck-and-neck with Dollar General in terms of store count and annual sales. The company acquired Family Dollar in 2015, following a bidding war with Dollar General. Its net sales also increased in the second quarter— by 3.9%.
Though almost every item in Dollar Tree stores goes for $1, the company is testing adding more expensive merchandise to some stores to boost sales with its Dollar Tree Plus! initiative.
We visited both stores to see which was better. Dollar Tree was an overall cheaper experience, from the actual prices to the quality of shopping. The store was a disaster to navigate and featured dozens of boxes lining almost every aisle.
Dollar General was a welcome reprieve from the mayhem of Dollar Tree. And though not all of the items there went for $1, Dollar General was the better store by a longshot.
Here's what we saw:
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The brick facade of Dollar Tree looked promising and we entered ready to find some deals.
One look inside made it clear that we were not in for a luxury shopping experience. The store had a drab interior with a floor that looked like it was in need of a good wash.
Plus, the table meant to display select items at the front of the store was far from appealing.
The front of the store was decked out with Halloween-themed merchandise.
But the mess here was the scariest thing by far. We found an open can of Pepsi hanging out on an already cluttered shelf of miscellaneous items.
Though there were some interesting items here, the clutter and disorganization was distracting. Plus the walkway was lined with boxes.
It didn't take long for us to realize the entire store would be characterized by this mess. In addition to random items strewn on the floor, there were boxes everywhere.
If the boxes weren't all over the floor, they looked like they were about to topple over.
It seemed as though the store was in the process of unloading merchandise onto shelves. However, many carts looked completely neglected.
We meandered our way through the store and found some useful items along the way. This hardware section was one of the cleaner sections we saw.
We also found some colored party supplies that looked like a good bargain.
The scented candle display in the back was a nice reprieve from the disaster zones in the rest of the store. We picked up an apple and vanilla-scented candle for $1.
Even though the store was hard to look at, the fact that every single item was $1 was extremely appealing and probably the store's biggest advantage.
If we ignored the mess, we found that the deals were off the charts. We especially loved the greeting card section, which had cards for practically every occasion.
We also determined that Dollar Tree was probably the best place to stop to pick up some candy. For $1 a pack and with all the name-brands, you could not do better.
We even picked up a little bag of miniature Reese's Cups.
But at a certain point, the mess became completely overwhelming. We could barely see across certain aisles, as they were completely blocked with boxes of merchandise.
To be sure, there were some aisles that were clean. But these were rare.
For the most part, we could barely make it through the store without stumbling upon a mess.
And in some places, the shelves were completely devoid of merchandise.
The food section was surprisingly well-stocked and featured some popular brands that were definitely appealing.
And we also picked up some classic red party cups for $1.
However, the mess in the frozen section was rather frightening ...
... and the mess awaiting us at the front of the store was even worse, where we happened to notice a station for buying balloons.
The store mostly looked a disaster zone.
Even though the store was a complete mess, we couldn't help but feel somewhat satisfied with our cheap purchases.
We would certainly come back to a Dollar Tree for the deals, despite the off-putting store experience.
Next, we headed down to Brooklyn, New York to check out a Dollar General.
Dollar General is renovating 1,000 existing stores and we happened to stop by one that had just been redone.
The difference between our first impression here and at Dollar Tree was stark. At first glance, Dollar General seemed absolutely spotless.
Whereas Dollar Tree went for a mostly green color scheme, Dollar General was decorated in yellow accents. Surprisingly, this looked really nice in the store.
There was a neat selection of snacks and candy at the front of the store.
Here, we saw our first hint of a mess. However, it was cordoned off to the side and it paled in comparison to the clutter we saw at Dollar Tree.
Though items at Dollar General are heavily discounted, the store doesn't sell everything for $1. This feature was definitely a disadvantage.
When it came to food, there were a lot of options. Plus, everything was cheaper than a regular supermarket.
There were a lot of name-brand items here as well. We picked up some Special K cereal for about $3.
Throughout the store, there were some items marked with green tags that let us know they cost $1.
We found a lot of those deals in the candy section.
We also found the same red cups we had seen at Dollar Tree going for the same low price of $1.
The frozen section was a pleasure to behold. The freezers looked brand new and the corresponding aisles were similarly spotless.
The was even a whole aisle devoted to the items that were going for $1. Even though we wished everything could have been that cheap in the store, we liked that there was a section devoted to this.
The Halloween section at Dollar General was spooky, but for all the right reasons. Everything was neatly organized and in its correct place.
We also found a nicely stocked aisle of school supplies.
There were some areas of the store that weren't in the best shape. We found some empty shelves ...
... as well as some boxes near the back of the store. However, the employee who was unloading them was careful not to block the aisles.
We were surprised at how many different kinds of items were on sale in the store. We found everything from clothing ...
... to home goods ...
... to scented candles.
There was even a whole clearance section filled with different goodies.
Plus there was a handy scanner to help people check prices on different goods. Granted, this tool would not have been too useful in Dollar Tree, where almost everything is $1.
At checkout, we found a donation box for the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, which awards millions of dollars in grants to literacy organizations.
In contrast to the paper bag we received at Dollar Tree, we got a yellow plastic bag for our purchases at Dollar General.
Overall, Dollar General was a pleasure to shop in. Though the store was more expensive than Dollar Tree on average, the store was easier to navigate and featured a nice mix of items, which were still cheaper than a general supermarket.
Dollar General was the better store by a long shot. As Dollar Tree makes the move to add higher-priced items in its stores, it might lose its sole advantage over Dollar General.
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