Working for a dollar store is no bargain

The lowest-price retailers' business model requires keeping labor costs so lean that fast-food workers seem to have it good.

By Jason Notte Aug 29, 2013 3:42PM
Manager Doris Oransky arranges merchandise at a Dollar General store in Arvada, Colorado on June 2, 2009 (© Rick Wilking/Newscom/Reuters)As fast-food workers strike and superstore salespeople increasingly embrace similar action, a good number of the retail workforce consider those jobs fairly cushy compared with the ones they hold.

In an American workplace where 4.3 million people labor as retail salespeople – making an average of $25,000 a year -- and an additional 3.3 million work as cashiers, dollar-store workers occupy the low tiers of each of those professions. That tier is steadily growing, however, as the domestic economy has regained just 5.7 million of the 8.7 million jobs shed during the Great Recession. Roughly 65% of those jobs are of the low-wage variety -- even though nearly 60% of all jobs lost during the slump paid middle-income wages or better, according to the National Employment Law Project.

As The Huffington Post points out, the number of dollar stores in the U.S. has roughly doubled over the past decade as cash-strapped consumers seek out ever-cheaper prices. There are now nearly 25,000 nationwide, according to the brokerage firm Sterne Agee. That's approximately five dollar stores in the U.S. for every Wal-Mart (WMT).

Dollar General (DG), Family Dollar (FDO) and Dollar Tree (DLTR) are on pace to open one new store every six hours this year, according to Sterne Agee's analysis, and they now employ more than 220,000 full-time and part-time U.S. workers. Dollar General alone has 90,000 employees.

Those stores play it close to the margins to keep costs down for the typical customers, who make $40,000 a year or less, Dollar Tree management says. When there's a bump in gasoline prices or payroll taxes, both of which Levine cited for soft sales, Family Dollar customers cut back on the extras and stick to necessities. In 2011, for example, groceries made up 70% of all Family Dollar purchases, up from 61% five years earlier.

As a result, managers' quarterly bonuses hinge on keeping stores profitable at minimal cost. Those bonuses are no small deal for managers making average salaries in the mid- to high $30,000s, which is less than half the salary of their counterparts at Wal-Mart, according to salary data from

That means dollar store managers are stingy with the hours they give part-time workers, and they extend their own hours to handle whatever work remains. That has resulted in more than 30 federal wage-and-hour lawsuits filed against the large dollar store chains since 2010.

For the chains, that's built into their business plan. Earlier this year, 6,000 Dollar Tree workers joined a lawsuit against the company, claiming they were required to clock out for breaks but had to continue working unpaid anyway. Female managers sued the company in a class action alleging Dollar Tree systematically underpaid them compared with male counterparts. The case was settled for $19 million last year.

"The number of employment-related class actions filed each year has continued to increase," Dollar General, which had sales of $16 billion last year, wrote in its 2010 annual report.

That's to be expected when those are the retailers of choice in the dollar store belt that stretches from Indiana and Ohio south to the Gulf Coast. West Virginia and Mississippi -- two of the poorest U.S. states -- also have the greatest number of dollar stores per capita, according to an analysis by Martin Prosperity Institute.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 29, 2013 4:56PM
Cant wait until we all get to work at the Dollar Tree or Walmart.
It would be certainly less stress.....Imagine, two to a bicycle,
riding tandem to work,  sharing lockers, maybe four families
co-opting on an apartment, the kids cozy and asleep in their
closets, after a bowl of nutritious dandelion soup and watered
down tea?

We musn't worry- there will still be the 1 Percent to carry on,
shouldering the burden for buying that third house, with
the elevators to carry Caddies to the rooftops and snuggle
up on their yacht in the Caymans.

Aug 29, 2013 5:50PM
The managers are given a number of hours each week that they must divide amongst all employees. This number of hours is passed down to them. The managers ARE NOT making the decision to make more money themselves. Managers are constantly begging for more hours for employees. You make the managers sound selfish which is not the case. It is upper management making the decision and passing it down to the store manager. The store manager also gets hit with the blame for all store shrinkage, such as shop lifting, although dollar general insist most of it is employee theft. But the store manager is the one that pays for it. Being a manager for them is hell!
Aug 29, 2013 5:33PM
The dollar store employees never stop, they must have in store cameras watching there every move. It's a crime that these big corporations treat there employees like slave labor. I have never been a big union supporter, but I'm beginning to change my mind.
When you work for a dollar store you work your hindquarters off, your not just the cashier, your the custodial crew, the stocker, the inventory taker, the truck unloader, maintenance person,  everything all at once! When I was manager there was a quota, you had so many part-time employees, at Max minimum hours (19 hours), then it was told to you behind closed doors how to steal time from them and it was a REQUIREMENT you had to squeak like 10 unpaid hours out of every employee every week. Yes, the company wanted them to punch out for everything, and you were suppose to make them work there breaks. One manager had her daughter in the store working 3 days a week unpaid, just to  keep the damned toy section straight...there wasn't enough time, man hours or people to do the job right. A manager makes about $300.00 a week salary and works 60 hours. I used to stay well after closing to clean restrooms, mop floors and restock. My people didn't donate time or work there they fired me.
Lest we forget all the cameras that are always watching from who knows where and you suddenly get a phone call at home or it rings off the wall in your office about an employee who lord forbid needed to use the restroom, get a drink or is sitting in your office EATING LUNCH!
Aug 29, 2013 8:08PM
AS a small business owner, I always start entry level employees at $12-14 an hour. I do not believe in paying good people a non-living wage. But I will be the first to admit that I am watching your work ethics and character. IF you are not going to give me 100% and a good attitude - then you are unemployed. If you have no use for hard work, personal development, and outstanding customer relations, then you do not stay. I will cut you slack when you make mistakes, as that is part of learning the job. But yack on the phone all day, surf n shop, facebook, solitaire, and arrive late and leave early... you are on the unemployment line. And it is ALWAYS those crappy employees griping about corporate evil.   NO ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE FACT THAT THEY ARE THE PROBLEM!
Aug 29, 2013 4:54PM
We are all free to make our own choices and thank God we live in a country where that's possible.  If you aren't happy with your lot in life, make better choices and do something to improve yourself.  Stop making excuses and wasting your life with reality TV or facebook and go to the library and learn something.  

If you want to learn how to do something, work on that.  Find someone who is really good at whatever you want to do and convince them to teach you how to do it, even if you have to clean up their office or their yard or run errands for them or whatever to make it happen. 

If you want a better job, actually search, find and apply for it, instead of complaining about your life and doing nothing.  Try starting your own business.  I know a guy who cleans up dog crap in people's yards and he makes 3 times what minimum wage is.  I know another guy that removes popcorn ceilings for a living - he makes good money too.

Go back to school.  There are plenty of free or cheap classes at the local community college.  There are free online classes all over the place that will teach you how to code or build a website or an app.  Get your real estate license and start doing that. Learn a trade like carpentry or plumbing or home inspection.  Get  a CDL or learn how to operate a forklift or heavy equipment.

For crying out loud, we live in the greatest country on earth, where anyone can become anything they want, as long as they are willing to put forth the effort.  No other place on earth offers as much opportunity and potential for upward mobility for EVERYONE, as we do.  Take advantage of this.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Aug 29, 2013 9:56PM
Why do so many of you think people don't want to work?  Almost everyone I know is in the same boat.  Too little hours, too little pay and too many jobs being sent out of country.  They're all looking for something better.  Go back to school you say?  And do what after they graduate?  Stand on a street corner and wave their diploma around.  How many nurses, therapists, secretaries, accountants, welders, carpenters, and teachers do we need?  There are no better jobs to seek anymore.  I know retail and fast food used to be entry level jobs for teens and for older people to earn a little extra money for themselves.  That is not the case anymore. I know several people with degrees that are working retail now because their companies decided to cut back.  All of you need to wake up and realize what is happening in this country.
Aug 29, 2013 6:14PM
I call on DG as a Sales Rep. Most of the Managers don't even make $30K and their benefits are delayed for a full year. It's the bottom of the barrel.
Aug 29, 2013 6:35PM
Watch for sale prices and go to places the double or triple coupons and you'll beat the dollar store prices.
Aug 30, 2013 2:13AM

Everyone has their own life experiences. I have seven brothers and sisters. Neither of our parents finished high school. But they made sure we understood – no one else - was responsible for our future. If we made poor life decisions we reaped the consequences. Each of us made the sacrifice of time and money to learn a trade or complete a college education; not a liberal arts degree that you can “stand on a street corner and wave the diploma around” but one that will earn you a living. Eight years ago two sisters started their own business. They along with their husbands and children worked day, night, and weekends without vacations. After the third year they turned the corner and their business continues to grow.  America is a land of opportunity. If you have two, three, four children before you can financially afford them, or your ten year plan is to live off entitlements, or flip burgers when you are thirty then you probably won’t be self-sufficient or happy. Now, there are bad things that happen to good people who truly need assistance and it seems the systems comes up short.  But for the rest of us you can be as successful as you want to be. Each of my brothers and sisters who attended college worked two jobs, mostly minimum wage to pay for tuition, books, labs, and now we all make a comfortable living. We all worked hard, made sacrifices and achieved our goals. Life is hard …. Success is even harder. Now I know a lot of people will disagree with me and say the world owes them a living, my siblings and I are not one of them.

Aug 30, 2013 2:55AM
All this talk about entry level jobs and hard work and dedication. Many pols like POTUS,Schumer,Clintons,Weiner et als never ran as much as a lemonade stand.
Aug 29, 2013 7:03PM
I wonder how often Michelle shops at the Dollar Store ?!?!  (snicker)
Aug 30, 2013 3:52PM

where do they come up with such "fantasy" numbers......the average comsumer makes 40K per year

are they living in some dream world.....this country hasnt recovered from the "housing bubble burst"

we havn't recovered from major job loss.....we havnt recovered from one damn thing....we are hanging on by our fingernails..... most familes live together just to put food on the table....and that food isnt T-BONE STEAKS....milk is almost 5 dollars a gallon...bacon 6 dollars a pound...gas is almost 3.50 a gallon and wages are at min or just above min wage of 7.25 per do "they" come up with this figure of 40K per year based on the figures we have been reading all year long......there was a article just a few days ago about job growth....65% of jobs returning to the market were of low pay and part time....of course people are going to go to the dollar store and get ripped off from cheap crap made from china.....need i say more?????????????

Aug 29, 2013 6:34PM

When we attempt to locate first employment we usually give best presentation possible.

We constantly change our dialog, our appearance, our background descriptions to

spotlight ourselves more favorably. After an appropriate of wait of non-interest, we drop

our requirements or increase our flexibility.  We continue to apply, we may continue

our training or educational fitness.  We'll upgrade appearance, polish our manners and

decrease ego if that's what's required. If still unemployed, and it's six months later

and no one has hired us, we become apprehensive, "What's wrong with me?" we'll

wonder. However, if we've never worked professionally, we know lack of experience

is one BIG major problem.  I recall my first job hunting days. They were rough; really,

really rough.  I was rough; really rough. After dozens of  interviews, hundreds of

applications, I landed my first non-sitter position at 16. After the first week, I felt I'd

outgrown the job!  Truth was, I had. Reality was, so what, who the heck did I think

I was wanting more? And, 'they' didn't want more from me either. One week's

on-the-job experience doesn't impress an employer. Most employers don't view

their role as educator or trainer, so it's likely any advancements you'll make will

be from the school of hard knocks. 


What skills did I offer? I saw myself as courteous, certainly trainable, smarter than 

many I knew, prompt, willing to work minimum but in a more interesting role. About

skills: none at professional peak-grade level; I was dull, inexperienced. If I wanted to

climb the food-chain, I had to acquire professional level skills, secure employer's

reference of my reliability, accuracy, sincerity. I needed 'in-demand occupational

standing', opportunity, contacts and an offer!  There's an expression "Don't quit

your day job." To fill my vast amount of leisure time, I returned to school and

pursued a business course -- for three years, four nights weekly. I worked days 

which was still unsatisfactory to my ego and income aspirations. Eventually I

found a better-paying, much greater opportunity position with a Fortune 500 firm.

But I had to knock-myself OUT and PROVE I had better skills than other applicants

first, and then I had to keep delivering better performance every day on-the-job.

I had to nurse and guard my reference, watch my sarcasm, convey diplomacy,

and keep my own counsel (my opinions were rarely sought, less much wanted).


LESSON:  Continue to re-manufacture yourself with in-demand IMPROVEMENTS

until you're accorded recognition of stature, pay and opportunity. To stay profitable

we must improve, compete and deliver a product suitable to customer's satisfaction.


CEO's are absolute role models for progression. CEO'S can follow a structured

Masters regimen certainly, but in addition, they enhance their marketability with infinite

skill malleability of finessing so tuned it assures success. They do that like a lone 

Indian on the plains tracking game - it's called initiative and it usually conveys leadership.


When most others gave-up, the surviving CEO continued to struggle for victory. Guess

who got the job offer? The most prepared usually.

Aug 29, 2013 5:44PM
Better deals at the .99 Cent Store....
Aug 30, 2013 2:50AM

Once Obamacare was surprisingly and unexpectedly passed there was the problem of paying for it. Each individual will now have to purchase insurance. Once the lower income people realize that it is not free and they will have to pay for it they will turn on the Democrats and Obama.  But wait, why not kill several birds with one stone. First get the 47% percent of low income into entitlement frenzy. Make them fell the world owes them a living. Keep them in the headlines with picket lines and stories of how they did nothing to prepare for a career and yet are owed everything. Raise the minimum wage which will mean the additional income will be used to pay for obamacare. The business owners will be the ones funding obamacare and as payroll taxes increase there is a bonus for the government.   


Aug 29, 2013 5:04PM

I love these articles lately.  Heading into to last November it was all recovery recovery recovery, big gains, unemployment is dropping!  You were in fact ridiculed as a hack if you pointed out only shi7 work for shi7 wages were being created.


Now, even the Huff Post, NY Times, and everyone are saying the same things. The only difference is it's the evil corps fault the wages are shi7 now.

Aug 31, 2013 12:24AM

There's this thing called "The Labor Commissioner", a very useful tool when you have crap like being required to "donate" time.  Not paying employees for time worked is illegal.  The thing is, you have to tell the right people.  Griping about it on the web, ain't the "right" people.


Once upon a time, I had the extreme pleasure of helping send an employer to jail.  Dang, that was fun!  Give it go! I promise it is even more satisfying than bitching about it on the web.

Aug 30, 2013 4:03PM
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