How to Open a Dollar Store

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Quick Reference

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 business 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 business. 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.

How much can you potentially make owning a dollar store?

In 2019, dollar and variety stores should make $87 billion in revenue, according to IBISWorld. 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.  

 

Steps to Starting a Dollar Store

Step 1. Write your Business plan

After coming up with a business idea, the next step in starting any business should be to write business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have one in order to get funding, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business. A well thought out dollar store business plan will serve the entrepreneur as the road map for their business, helping them achieve their business goals.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

It’s generally beneficial for a dollar store to be located in higher-traffic locations which typically equates to high rent or purchase price.

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.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

The types of business licenses, permits and registrations that will be required to start a business vary on the activities of the business in addition to where it is located. 

No special licensing is required to open a dollar store business, but some of the common local, state and federal registrations will include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a dollar store is another.  The cost cost to start a dollar store can be high, with a majority of the costs going towards remodeling, shelving, signage and inventory.  Funding for a new start-up can be difficult as banks are typically going to want the borrower to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their own money.  

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Ready

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.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Obtain 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.

Step 8. Hiring Employees

You may start out as the only person working in your dollar store, however it’s important at some point to bring on employees as retail hours are typically long and you will need a break or time off if you are sick. 

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.  

Related: Hiring your first employee

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