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Discount Domination: Dollar Stores are Thriving in America

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The retail landscape is in a constant state of flux.

E-commerce is indisputably disrupting almost every imaginable aspect of retail, creating what has been coined as the “retail apocalypse”. As a result, certain segments of the market have had well publicized meltdowns – electronics and apparel, in particular – and the U.S. now has far more retail floor space available than any other nation.

That said, there is one type of store that’s thriving in this unpredictable landscape – dollar stores. Today, we examine data from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, which puts the scale of the United States’ dollar store boom into perspective.

dollar store nation

Escaping the Retail Apocalypse

The rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon has led to a relentless wave of closures for brick and mortar retailers. Department stores and consumer electronics are taking hard hits, yet a curious trend emerges through the cracks – dollar stores are multiplying like rabbits.

The persistent growth of dollar stores is the biggest retail trend in the past decade. Between 2007 and 2017, over 11,000 new dollar stores were opened; that’s roughly 93 new stores a month, or three per day. Dollar General, in particular, is reaping the rewards: the company has a market cap of over $30 billion.

dollar general stock

Compared to mammoth retailer Walmart, Dollar General is the little store that could. Despite reporting lower sales per square foot, Dollar General outperforms Walmart in 5-year gross profit margins.

StoreSales per square foot5-year gross profit marginsCost of a new store
Dollar General$18430.9%$250,000
Walmart$43225.1%$15,000,000

Sources: Bloomberg, E-Marketer

This whopping difference in launching a new location contributes to the fast and furious spread of dollar stores. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which now owns Family Dollar) boast 30,000 stores between them, eclipsing the six biggest U.S. retailers combined. Their combined annual sales also rival Apple Stores, including iTunes.

The Dollar Store Strategy

What makes dollar stores so lucrative? In a nutshell, they’re willing to go where others won’t.

Dollar General focuses on rural areas, while Dollar Tree and Family Dollar are more prominent in urban and suburban areas. But they have one thing in common – all three chains target small towns in rural America, resulting in a high concentration per capita, especially in the South.

Wal-Mart’s 40 miles away and we can meet those people’s needs.

– David Perdue, Former CEO of Dollar General

Dollar General’s ambitious expansion into smaller towns has proven successful. Residents can find many everyday products at prices similar to those at Walmart, but without the longer drive to a Supercenter. Despite the 3,500 Walmart Supercenters spread out across the country, chances are, there’s a dollar store even closer.

dollar stores versus walmart

Dollar stores fill a need in cash-strapped communities, saving time and gas money during a trip to the store, and then offering an affordable and enticing products inside the store itself.

America’s Grocery Gap

The no-frills shopping experience is also a quintessential trait of dollar stores. Dollar stores focus on a limited selection of private label goods, selling basics in small quantities instead of bulk.

However, there’s also a dark underbelly to this trend. Dollar stores often enter areas with no grocery stores at all, called food deserts. In the absence of choice, dollar stores are welcomed with open arms – but the lack of fresh produce and abundance of processed, packaged foods leave much to be desired.

If you live in Whole Foods-land – not the dollar store world – it’s an invisible reality that they’re supplying a lot of the groceries.

— Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

On the other hand, when dollar stores compete with locally-owned grocery stores in the same area, sales in the latter can be cut by over 30% in some cases – taking an enormous toll on the community.

The ILSR report suggests that dollar stores may not always be a by-product of economic distress, but a cause of it. Regardless of what perspective you have on the spread of dollar stores, it’s clear they’re here to stay.

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China’s Economy: 40 Years of Soaring Exports

China’s economy today is completely different than 40 years ago; in 2021 the country makes up the highest share of exports globally.

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China's Economy

Animated Chart: 40 Years of Soaring Exports in China

China has the second highest GDP in the world, and it exports 15% of all the world’s goods. But how did this come to be?

A mere 40 years ago, China’s economy was in an entirely different situation, making up less than 1% of global exports and still in the infancy stages of building its economy. The above animated chart from the UNCTAD showcases China’s rise to global trade dominance over time.

Timeline: The Rise to Power

The China of the mid-20th century looks remarkably different when compared to the modern-day nation. Prior to the 1980s, China was going through a period of social upheaval, poverty, and dictatorship under Mao Zedong.

The 1970s

Beginning in the late 1970s, China’s share of global exports stood at less than 1%. The country had few trade hubs and little industry. In 1979, for example, Shenzhen was a city of just around 30,000 inhabitants.

In fact, China (excluding Taiwan* and Hong Kong) did not even show up in the top 10 global exporters until 1997 when it hit a 3.3% share of global exports.

YearShare of Global ExportsRank
20004.0%#7
20057.3%#3
201010.3%#1
201513.7%#1
202014.7%#1

*Editor’s note: The above data comes from the UN, which lists Taiwan as a separate region of China for political reasons.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, several cities and regions, like the Pearl River Delta, were designated as Special Economic Zones. These SEZs had tax incentives that worked to attract foreign investment.

Additionally, in 1989, the Coastal Development Strategy was implemented to use strategic regions along the country’s coast as catalysts for economic development.

The 1990s and Onwards

By the 1990s, the world saw the rise of global value chains and transnational production lines, with China offering a cheap manufacturing hub due to low labor costs.

Rounding out the ‘90s, the Western Development Strategy was implemented in 1999, dubbed the “Open Up the West” program. This program worked to build up infrastructure and education to retain talent in China’s economy, with the goal of attracting further foreign investment.

Finally, China officially joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 which allowed the country to progress full steam ahead.

Made in China

Today China is a trade giant and manufacturing behemoth. Only the U.S. and Germany come close to its share of global exports, sitting at 8.1% and 7.8% respectively.

RankCountryShare of Global Exports (2020)
#1🇨🇳 China14.7%
#2🇺🇸 U.S. 8.1%
#3🇩🇪 Germany7.8%
#4🇳🇱 Netherlands3.8%
#5🇯🇵 Japan3.6%
#6🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR3.1%
#7🇰🇷 South Korea2.9%
#8🇮🇹 Italy2.8%
#9🇫🇷 France2.8%
#10🇧🇪 Belgium2.4%

China’s manufacturing industry has become dominant in producing just about anything from commonplace household items to integral pieces in automotive manufacturing. Some staples of Chinese manufacturing are:

  • Precision instruments
  • Semiconductors
  • Industrial machinery for computers and smartphones

COVID-19 made China’s integral role in the global economy even more visceral, as major delays in the supply chain occurred when the virus hit the country.

An Economic Superpower

In 2021, China’s trade recovery from the crisis has bested most other countries—in Q1 2021, its exports grew by almost 50% compared to the previous year’s quarter, to around $710 billion.

And the country is not slowing down any time soon. Further plans for economic development are well under way, like Made in China 2025, with the goal of becoming a dominant player in global high-tech manufacturing. Additionally, the famous One Belt, One Road initiative has been funding infrastructure projects globally over the past decade, and the country is also a founding member of the RCEP—which is soon to be the world’s biggest trading bloc.

However, China still faces a series of challenges, such as:

  • Population decline
  • The onset of labor saving technology
  • Trade wars with U.S. and sanctions from other trade partners, like Europe
  • The emergence of ASEAN trade powers, like Vietnam

A declining population has many implications like a shrinking workforce and domestic market. Additionally, many companies are setting up shop in less costly manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.

Furthermore, inexpensive innovations in labor-saving technologies, such as robotics and automation, have already begun to undermine the cheap manual labor that has made China the world’s manufacturer.

All of these elements and more could potentially spell a slowing of growth in China’s export dominance. However, while the future for China may not be certain, currently, global trade and production could not function without it.

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The Biggest Business Risks in 2021

We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant. Which are the top ten business risks to watch out for?

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The Biggest Business Risks Around the World

We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant.

Businesses, too, face rapidly changing environments and associated risks that they need to adapt to—or risk falling behind. These can range from supply chain issues due to shipping blockages, to disruptions from natural catastrophes.

As countries and companies continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 risk management experts were surveyed for the Allianz Risk Barometer, uncovering the top 10 business risks that leaders must watch out for in 2021.

The Top 10 Business Risks: The Pandemic Trio Emerges

Business Interruption tops the charts consistently as the biggest business risk. This risk has slotted into the #1 spot seven times in the last decade of the survey, showing it has been on the minds of business leaders well before the pandemic began.

However, that is not to say that the pandemic hasn’t made awareness of this risk more acute. In fact, 94% of surveyed companies reported a COVID-19 related supply chain disruption in 2020.

Rank (2021)% ResponsesRisk NameBusiness Risk ExamplesChange from 2020
#141%Business InterruptionSupply chain disruptions
#240%Pandemic OutbreakHealth and workforce issues, restrictions on movement
#340%Cyber IncidentsCybercrime, IT failure/outage, data breaches, fines and penalties
#419%Market DevelopmentsVolatility, intensified competition/new entrants, M&A, market stagnation, market fluctuation
#519%Legislation/ Regulation ChangesTrade wars and tariffs, economic sanctions, protectionism, Brexit, Euro-zone disintegration
#617%Natural CatastrophesStorm, flood, earthquake, wildfire
#716%Fire, Explosion-
#813%Macroeconomic DevelopmentsMonetary policies, austerity programs, commodity price increase, deflation, inflation
#913%Climate Change-
#1011%Political Risks And ViolencePolitical instability, war, terrorism, civil commotion, riots and looting

Note: Figures do not add to 100% as respondents could select up to three risks per industry.

Pandemic Outbreak, naturally, has climbed 15 spots to become the second-most significant business risk. Even with vaccine roll-outs, the uncontrollable spread of the virus and new variants remain a concern.

The third most prominent business risk, Cyber Incidents, are also on the rise. Global cybercrime already causes a $1 trillion drag on the economy—a 50% jump from just two years ago. In addition, the pandemic-induced rush towards digitalization leaves businesses increasingly susceptible to cyber incidents.

Other Socio-Economic Business Risks

The top three risks mentioned above are considered the “pandemic trio”, owing to their inextricable and intertwined effects on the business world. However, these next few notable business risks are also not far behind.

Globally, GDP is expected to recover by +4.4% in 2021, compared to the -4.5% contraction from 2020. These Market Developments may also see a short-term 2 percentage point increase in GDP growth estimates in the event of rapid and successful vaccination campaigns.

In the long term, however, the world will need to contend with a record of $277 trillion worth of debt, which may potentially affect these economic growth projections. Rising insolvency rates also remain a key post-COVID concern.

Persisting traditional risks such as Fires and Explosions are especially damaging for manufacturing and industry. For example, the August 2020 Beirut explosion caused $15 billion in damages.

What’s more, Political Risks And Violence have escalated in number, scale, and duration worldwide in the form of civil unrest and protests. Such disruption is often underestimated, but insured losses can add up into the billions.

No Such Thing as a Risk-Free Life

The risks that businesses face depend on a multitude of factors, from political (in)stability and growing regulations to climate change and macroeconomic shifts.

Will a post-pandemic world accentuate these global business risks even further, or will something entirely new rear its head?

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