New Orleans Dollar stores are now literally everywhere. How can you miss them, especially in rural and lower-income areas? It’s not easy. There are 18,000 Dollar Generals, 16,162 Dollar Trees, and they own another 8,200 Family Dollars. That’s 42,362 stores, and they’re still opening new ones as often as they can. Driving an 80-mile stretch in the Ozarks, I decided to count the Dollar General stores I passed and there were 10 in that stretch; one every 8 miles.
They are now becoming the go-to option for many families, not just trying to make it alive through the food desert, but trying to deal with inflation on many food items. Dollar stores are taking this crisis to the bank. As reported in The Wall Street Journal:
Average spending on grocery products at discount chains increased 71% from October 2021 to June 2022, according to analytics firm InMarket. Over that time period, spending on the same items in grocery stores decreased by 5%. Many large consumer brands—including Walmart and Unilever—attest that their prices aren’t going down anytime soon.
Sales up, but stock isn’t necessarily the best for the consumers. Dollar General only sells fresh produce in a bit over 2,000 of its stores. Customers complain that Family Dollar and the others sugar up almost everything in cans. Spokespeople for the companies tout their frozen fruit and vegetables. This is going to be an increasing public health crisis, except that it’s been an on-going crisis for lower income families for years who are suffering from unhealthy diets demanded by limited access or affordability of better options.
Sales are up, but staffing isn’t, and this seems to be part of the business model. Look at the employment ads or talk to some of the folks behind the counter of any of these dollar stores and be ready for a shock. Of course, they all seem to start at or right around the minimum wage set by the state and then, being high-turnover, if you make it for a bit, you get a bump. Managers are paid somewhat more, but they are almost exploited, perhaps even more than the frontline workers. Many of these chains work on a model where each store, based on some calculation of sales, is assigned a certain number of total hours to run the store, which of course also dictates when they open and close, so that they have coverage on those hours.
Managers though aren’t counted on the hours, and they are technically claimed as exempt, supervisory employees with theoretically wide discretion. Workers have told the team at the Workers Organizing Support Center, that managers in the chains often start at $36,000. Certainly, that’s a long way from the federal minimum wage, and if their standard workweek was really 40 hours, then they would be making more than $17/hour. That’s the catch, as workers potentially exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, there’s no limit to their hours if they are paid at least $684 per week. At 52 weeks in the year, that would total $35,788, making $36,000 just over the line. It’s not hard to talk to managers about staffing issues and hear them tell of working 60-, 80-, and even 100-hour weeks in these times where everyone is looking for staff, and the companies are paying towards the minimum. If the business model is assigning hours to the stores, sweating the supervisors is one way they make it work.
Of course, that means even more turnover, including at the top, and probably means lawsuits in their future. Unfortunately, that’s another easy calculation for them. On one hand, the cost of pricey lawyers. On the other hand, the years of litigation and delay are way, way cheaper than actually paying their workers fairly.
Maybe at one point calling them dollar stores was because a lot of items were priced at a dollar, but the business model for all of these outfits seems to really be that’s is all about the dollar. Period.