Industry Trends and News from Levin Management
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The Mighty Dollars: A Bricks and Mortar Success Story

Retail Real Estate Trend: Will Good Times Be Bad for Bargain

You might call them the mice that roared. They’re the dollar stores – now almost 30,000 nationwide and growing. These price point retailers not only weathered the economic recession but they triumphed, growing their annual sales by 50 percent from 2010-15, compared to the 17 percent notched by retail overall in the same period. And while every week seems to bring news of closing doors and downsizing among bricks and mortars, the dollar niche remains in expansion mode. Dollar General, the top player in this category, is set to open 1,000 new stores this year (that’s 3 per day)! (Read more: http://www.retaildive.com/news/why-dollar-general-will-keep-its-promise-to-build-1k-stores-this-year/434044/)

Demographics Plus Location Equals Dollars for the Dollar Niche
Low- and middle-income shoppers have been these stores’ sweet spot since the first Dollar General opened in 1955 with a variety of wares, all below a $1 price point. As more retailers joined the bargain bandwagon, a location strategy emerged: cluster the stores within a small range for maximum ease of access. It was the reverse of Walmart’s centralization strategy. Consumers who must economize on gas or who rely on public transportation can always find a dollar store close to home or work. The convenience factor also proved a powerful draw for time-starved shoppers at higher income levels.

Not Your Grandpa’s Dollar Store
The crash of 2008 that brought misery to merchants nationwide was a boon to the category. The newly price-conscious turned to the dollars and the stores responded to that rush by pushing their inventories beyond novelties, out-of-date seasonal decorations, discontinued brands and basic staples. To meet the needs of a new class of bargain hunters, they improved their product mix, while retaining their original “treasure hunt” appeal. Consumables – food, household paper goods and cleaning products, health and beauty aids and tobacco products – now comprise three-quarters of the average dollar store’s inventory. Some dollars have added frozen meals, and prepared sandwiches. And 99 Cents Only’s website promises “Fresh produce daily.”

Bargain-priced consumables have drawn another new demographic to the dollars: Millennials. Known for their thriftiness and their preference for experiences over possessions, these sought-after consumers are among the dollar stores’ most loyal customers. In fact, NPD Group reports that at the three biggest dollar chains, 25 percent of purchases were made by Millennials from $100,000-plus households.

Dollar Stores Continue to Boost Commercial Real Estate
Shopping centers shared in the success of the dollar store niche during the recession and that positive connection continues. We are pleased to have 16 dollar stores in our portfolio, all representatives of the major chains. Dollar stores typically seek ten-year leases on 8,000-12,000 SF spaces in properties with strong anchors and high traffic counts. Their solid financial positions and brand names plus their ability to pull in shoppers make them ideal tenants.

Retail Real Estate Trend: The Growth Pace of Dollar Stores May Ease
As the economy strengthens, retail trend watchers predict that in the dollar store category new challenges may cool the growth of dollar stores. Will consumers become less interested in bargain hunting? Will the reduction in SNAP benefits curb less affluent shoppers? Will some stores fall victim to the saturation of these retailers in certain areas and end up cannibalizing each other? What about competition from drug stores who now compete with the dollars in the food and beverage categories? Will Amazon finally chip away at the dollars’ convenience appeal with its same-day delivery of low-priced consumables? (Read more: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/21/when-1-can-be-much-more-the-dollar-store-divide.html)

On the positive side, the dollar stores stand to remain immune to the threat of online among their original sweet spot – the less affluent household who does not typically shop online. Their low overhead and the minimal investment required to open a new store are also strengths. And then there’s the loyal Millennial consumer segment. Dollar General, the category leader, just launched a new smaller-store concept catering to the taste and needs of urban Millennials.

We’re keeping an eye on this category. These were the big bricks and mortar bright spot of the last decade and we’re not likely to bet against the dollars.