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If you want to start a retail store that offers value to your community but features lower inventory costs than some larger retail stores require, a dollar store may be the right solution. Skilled inventory sourcing and a pulse on what’s in demand locally are just a few skills that you’ll need, but a well-thought-out store can be a valuable addition to a local community. The following overview of what it takes to get a dollar store up and running can help you to create a detailed business plan and start up your store.

Business Overview

Dollar stores offer low-cost goods to consumers and sometimes price all items in the store for $1. Typically, dollar store’s stock goods including groceries, kitchenware and home furnishings, books, health goods, cleaning supplies, decor, and more. Because the stores purchase the items in bulk or take advantage of closeouts or other specials, they offer competitive pricing that consumers can’t find elsewhere. Dollar stores naturally appeal to bargain hunters, and while low-income consumers make up a significant portion of the store’s customer base, mid-class and upper-class customers also shop at dollar stores.

Industry summary

From 2014 through 2019, dollar stores have undergone significant growth in the United States. IBISWorld reports that the dollar store industry’s annual growth of 3.9% during those five years results in a projected revenue totaling $87 billion in 2019. At the same time, the number of dollar stores in business grew by 3% to 77,740. The number of employees also increased by 6.3% over that five-year time frame, with the industry’s employment totaling 538,907 by 2019.

Industry trends

While many retail stores face steep competition from online retailers and big-box retailers, dollar stores are in a unique position. According to eMarketer, even though the economy is improving, consumers still demonstrate shopping habits that were influenced by the recession. Consumers continue to bargain hunt, and dollar stores offer a convenient local source of bargain deals on particular goods. Bargain hunting has even become a point of pride for many consumers with higher incomes, which has served to increase the customer base for dollar stores.

Dollar General and Dollar Tree are major competitors to dollar stores. According to Statista, in 2017, Dollar General’s net sales totaled $23.5 billion, while Dollar Tree’s net sales were $22.2 billion. These chain stores demonstrate the earning potential that is possible by offering low-cost in-demand items to local consumers.

Who is the target market for your dollar store?

A study by Inmar in July of 2018 revealed that 21% of dollar store consumers are households with incomes between $20,000 and $39,000, and households with incomes exceeding $100,000. Low-income households are a significant part of a dollar store’s customer base. In November of 2018, Inmar’s Dollars and Cents survey revealed that 43% of millennials also visit dollar stores weekly for groceries. A store’s location will also affect its target audience.

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a dollar store

While a business degree isn’t required to start a dollar store, particular skills and experiences are important and useful to have.

Retail experience. Experience as a retail manager is useful in opening a dollar store. As the owner of a store, you’ll need to be familiar with tasks such as inventory management, how to determine appropriate pricing, using a cash register, and more. Firsthand experience in some sort of retail store – even if it wasn’t a dollar store – can leave you better prepared to handle the demands of owning a retail store.

Customer service skills. From helping customers find the right products to upselling items and providing a great shopping experience, customer service skills are key for any dollar store owner. By developing strong relationships with customers and being out on the floor at times, store owners can learn what items customers are looking for that the store doesn’t stock, and potentially add those to the inventory for increased sales and better overall customer service.

Management skills. Multiple employees are a must when running a dollar store, and managing those employees takes talent. Previous management skills, such as experience hiring staff, training employees, managing an employee schedule, teaching employees about customer service, and even designing an employee manual are all valuable as you hire and train employees.

Business skills. Running a dollar store takes some business skills. Developing relationships with wholesalers, managing inventory, tracking expenses and income, and marketing the business are just a few of the responsibilities that store owners will face on a daily basis. Even if you don’t have a business degree, you can learn many of these skills through courses at community colleges, online classes, or through business workshops within your community.

Financial Overview

Dollar stores offer a large variety of products at low prices and starting up a store requires a significant financial investment. The following expenses and more should be included in any dollar store’s budget.

A few common costs to start a dollar store

Equipment

  • Cash registers ($200-$1,000 each)
  • Checkout counters with conveyor belts ($800-$1,800 each)
  • Store shelving ($150-$500 per unit)
  • Coolers and freezers ($800-$3,000 each)

Supplies

  • Price guns ($32-$80)
  • Plastic shopping bags (Start at $11 for 250; price per bag decreases with larger bulk orders)
  • Shopping baskets ($5 each)

Inventory

  • Inventory can be as extensive or varied as you wish. Price will vary according to the product, quantity, and more.

Working capital

Any dollar store needs working capital to stay in business. Stores rely on working capital to purchase inventory and keep the shelves well-stocked. If working capital gets tied up in inventory that isn’t selling, restocking in-demand items can be a challenge.

Insurance

Most dollar stores need a few different types of insurance to keep them fully covered against common risks:

  • General liability insurance covers expenses like medical bills if a customer is injured in the store, such as by a slip or fall.
  • Commercial property insurance pays for losses in inventory, equipment, and the store’s building in case of an event like a fire or a storm.
  • Workers comp insurance is required if a business has employees. This insurance helps to cover expenses like an employee’s lost wages or medical bills if they are ever injured on the job.

Insurance costs will vary according to many factors, including the cost of a business’ inventory, the number of employees a business has, desired coverage limits, and more. It is best to request insurance quotes from multiple providers and then carefully compare the policies to determine the best insurance plan for a business.

Common operational expenses

In addition to budgeting for the items described above, you’ll also need to budget for these common expenses.

Lease

Lease expenses will vary according to the location and size of the store. Store space in primary retail areas will be more expensive, but can bring in more customers as a result. Dollar stores in malls or shopping plazas have the advantage of offering items at a much lower price point than the surrounding businesses can offer.

Employees

Most dollar stores can operate with just eight or nine employees. According to PayScale, the average hourly pay for sales clerks is $10.31 per hour, or about $26,666 per year. Depending on whether a store owner employs full-time or part-time employees, additional expenses, such as health insurance contributions, paid time off, and workman’s comp insurance, should be included in the budget.  

Marketing

Marketing is also a necessary expense, especially when first opening a dollar store. Because inventory may fluctuate, it can be difficult to send out regular flyers or emails to a customer base, but dollar stores can use coupons, direct mailers, and even in-store events to encourage customers to come shop. Other marketing options include sponsoring local events within the community and even getting active on social media to build awareness and support of the store. The marketing costs will vary from activity to activity.

How much can you potentially make owning a dollar store?

In 2019, dollar and variety stores should make $87 billion in revenue. The industry has grown steadily since 2014, and the number of businesses in the country has increased to over 77,000. According to Glassdoor, annual salaries for Dollar Tree owner-operators average between $53,000 and $57,000.

While things look promising for dollar stores, potential earnings will vary from store to store. Factors such as a store’s size and location, as well as the deals that you can secure on merchandise, will all affect your potential income.  

Licenses & Permits

Requirements for business licenses and businesses vary between states, counties, and even cities and towns. Consult with your local business advisory and town hall to determine the permits and licenses that you will need to secure before opening your business.

 

Things to consider before starting a dollar store

The success of a dollar store depends on many factors, including its location, the local area’s need for the store, and your ability to secure great deals on inventory. Owning and managing the store is an ongoing job and finding the right wholesale or liquidation supplier is a task that’s essential to a store’s success. Regularly bringing in new, seasonal merchandise is also key to keeping customers returning to the store again and again.

Because a storefront and so much inventory is required, dollar stores can have significant startup costs. It’s important to create a detailed business plan to understand the expenses that you will face, as well as to take steps to maximize the store’s success. A well-thought-out business plan can help you to secure funding, too, if it is needed.

Ultimately, dollar stores fulfill a local need for convenience, for quality products, and for money-saving deals. Assessing the location – both in terms of the actual storefront and the geographic location – can help to determine the best location for a store, as well as to better understand the types of products that the local community may seek out.

Resources

National Retail Federation
Retail Merchants Association

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