Last Updated on October 31, 2021
Dollar stores are having a moment right now. Truth be told, they’ve been around for decades, but in recent years we’ve seen unprecedented growth in the small store space, both in urban and suburban areas and in rural America. While some people thought the end of the recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s would spell the end of dollar stores, just the opposite has happened: as people went into those stores, they got attached and they’ve largely kept coming back.
So who are the big chains?
Dollar General is the largest dollar store chain in the world, with over 17,000 stores in the U.S. and an annual revenue of over $25 billion. The publicly traded company is the third-largest discount store operator in the world behind Aldi and Schwartz, which owns Lidl. It was founded in the late 1930s in Kentucky and went public in the 1960s. DG is currently based in Goodletsville, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
Dollar General has several subsidiaries, including Dolgencorp, a name you’ll often see on products in the store, since Dolgencorp makes many of its private label products.
Dollar General has a mix of food and non-food products. The food products include staples like bread, milk, and eggs, as well as prepackaged food like canned food, frozen pizza, chips, and such. Dollar General does not currently sell produce like fresh fruit or vegetables. Non-food products run the range: office supplies, clothes, toiletries, toys, pet care, greeting cards, and a lot more. Most of the store is the same year-round, but the store does have a seasonal section that can include, say, gardening equipment or swimming gear.
DG has a presence in all parts of the United States, but the store is most notable for its presence in rural areas, where it may be the only store for miles. While some critics have pointed out that Dollar General has put local stores out of business, others have noted that Dollar General is willing to put stores in “food deserts” where other stores simply won’t go.
Dollar Tree has over 15,000 stores in the United States as well as Canada. Dollar Tree also owns Family Dollar (more on this in a moment) which brings its total store count to around 15,000, making it the second-largest dollar store chain in the world. The annual revenue of its parent company is over $22 billion, which makes it the fourth-largest discount store in the world, just behind Dollar General. Dollar Tree was founded in 1953 in Norfolk, Virginia, and currently is headquartered in nearby Chesapeake, Virginia.
Dollar Tree has been through a few names over the decades, including, for a time, Only $1.00. This reflects the store’s place as what is known as an “extreme discounter,” as everything in the store has been no more than a dollar. However, one of the reasons Dollar Tree changed its name from Only $1.00 back in the 1990s was to keep open the possibility of selling products at price points other than $1. That has started to happen in 2021, in response to rising costs, but almost all products are still currently priced at $1.
Dollar Tree achieves these low costs through a variety of methods. For one thing, it sells a number of private label and generic products across its sections. For another, with its national brand products, it often sells modified versions of what you might see in other stores, such as smaller quantities — like smaller bottles of soda — to equate to a smaller price.
DT stocks a range of food and non-food products, including toiletries, dry goods, toys, office supplies, and a wide assortment of greeting cards. Surprisingly, you can even find some frozen goods and books at Dollar Tree, although the quality of those particular products is debatable.
Family Dollar is another major competitor in the dollar store scene, with over 8,000 stores in 46 states. It was founded in 1959 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and remained headquartered in the Charlotte area until 2015, when Family Dollar was acquired by Dollar Tree. That means that Dollar Tree and Family Dollar are now the same company, with Family Dollar also headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia.
While Dollar Tree is an extreme discounter that operates in a different space than Dollar General, Family Dollar is a more direct competitor to DG. If you’ve been to a Dollar General, walking around Family Dollar will look familiar, with similar kinds of products and a similar blend of both private labels and national brands.