Dollar Store News article #2
Posted on Sun, Nov. 28, 2004
Couple say dollar store makes sense
New owners give up other careers, say the market is favorable
LEIGH PRESSLEY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
GASTONIA – For some folks, this is a time of year to reconnect with family and friends, celebrate with neighbors and reflect on blessings.
For others, it’s an overwhelming stress-fest, consumed by juggling tasks including decorating the house, mailing holiday cards, baking cookies, attending parties and buying presents.
But for one couple, business success during the holiday season could signal the end of having to work for someone else.
Debi Lambert and her groom of three weeks, Eddie, own and operate the Carolina Dollar, an independent store in the growing cluster of corporate discounters such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Dollarville and Family Dollar. The couple live in Charlotte.
Both are former teachers who segued into other professions. Debi left a 9-to-5 job as marketing director at the N.C. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte. Eddie, a former coach, had most recently worked in sales with Porta-Jon Construction Site Services in Gastonia.
“I had a really good job that most people saw as glamorous and fun, but after 12 years, I wanted to do something else,” Debi says. “I wanted a job I loved, but one that we also could do together. We both enjoy bargain hunting, shopping at Salvation Army, Goodwill and dollar stores.”
Carolina Dollar opened in mid-May in the rear section of Akers Center, near Hobby Lobby.
During months of research, the couple wrote an in-depth business plan with the help of the Small Business Association in Charlotte. The plan includes information on their vision for the store, how they plan to make the business financially viable and why it’s a good investment. The Lamberts also had to think about the type of merchandise they would sell, which vendors to buy it from, pricing, profit margins and projected expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities.
“Our research showed that this was one of the best retail sectors out there,” says Debi, 36. “The saturation point of the market is not expected to hit for another five years. There’s room for growth if you get in while it’s on the up trend.”
Dollar stores typically fall into two categories — those like Carolina Dollar that price all items at $1, and those such as Family Dollar and Dollar General that sell things for generally less than $10. In the latter category, the merchandise is priced in whole-dollar amounts — at $2.00 instead of $1.99, for example.
Discount retailers such as Carolina Dollar buy the majority of their products from manufacturers who produce goods specifically for dollar stores. Often made in China, the products are imported by the crate.
Web sites that cater to dollar stores are another source of merchandise, along with stores going out of business, factories that have overruns or seconds and corporations that want to get rid of extra stock or close-out items.
To sell things for $1, discount retailers strive for costs averaging 60 cents.
“Our profit margin is smaller, but the key to our success is volume,” says Debi.
Carolina Dollar, which set up in the former Fashion Bug space, covers 8,200 square feet. That’s larger than the industry average of 5,000 square feet, but well below the corporate-owned norm of about 15,000 square feet.
The Lamberts said they try to set themselves apart from other dollar stores by carrying unique merchandise.
“We’ve done really well with clothing,” says Debi. “People buy T-shirts, sweatshirts and baby clothes by the basket.”
“One lady comes in here every week to buy clothes,” adds Eddie, 34. “She told us that at these prices, she could afford to buy a new Sunday outfit for church every single week. Other people come in and find name brands like Coldwater Creek or Tommy Hilfiger for $1. Then they become dollar-store believers.”
The demographics of discount devotees show most dollar-store customers are women ages 18 to 25. At Carolina Dollar, the Lamberts say, about 70 percent of customers are women ranging in age from teenagers to senior citizens. “We get moms with kids buying favors for birthday parties, parents buying school supplies, kids buying items for shoebox drives, you name it,” says Eddie. “Everybody loves a deal. Finding a bargain gives people a thrill.”
Want to Go?
WHAT DOES A BUCK BUY?
Here’s an idea of what $1 will get you at Carolina Dollar: Christmas tree lights, felt stockings, electric candles, cookie tins, garland, tinsel, Santa hats, reindeer antlers, gold cowboy hats, beaded coin purses, Hanes T-shirts, baby clothes, socks, belts, hats, flip flops, Coldwater Creek sweatshirts, dresses, beaded vests, shoe organizers, dust pans, cat toys, dog bones, balloons, bows, gift wrap, ribbon, greeting cards, scissors, note pads, craft supplies, glue, tape, rubber bands, notebooks, ceramic lotion dispensers, bathtub stickers, hair clips, picture frames, silver-plated trays, , egg separators and funnels.