It’s funny how retail experiences change with age, muses NZ Retail and The Register editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn.
When I was a child, the $2 Shop was the most exciting place in the retail world. My brother and I would do chores around the house for pocket money, save until we each had $10, and then make a beeline for the only store in town where we could afford anything we wanted.
The electric thrill of walking into the $2 Shop, inhaling that plasticky discount-store aroma and surveying the brightly-coloured, fluorescent-lit goods still resonates through the years.
And what goods they were: Dinosaur figurines, nylon kites, yo-yos. Fart putty, cat ears, glitter. Stamp sets, sticky hands, tiny racecars. Puzzles, stickers featuring unfamiliar cartoon characters. Glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls.
The knowledge that we could shop the whole store with a handful of gold coins was totally intoxicating.
Needless to say, encountering this kind of shop from the other side of 30 is a different experience again. These days, I tend to only visit a dollar store when accompanied by kids, or searching for the funny little junky things we all sometimes need: A fake moustache for a Halloween costume, a toothpaste squeezer, a sheaf of bobby pins.
I can’t say the toy section sets my heart on fire anymore, but the nostalgia factor still adds a sheen of enjoyment, and discovering weird and wonderful curiosities is still a buzz: What do you think this complicated implement is used for? Who’s that caricature meant to be? Hey, this cat ornament has three eyes!
The Taranaki-based $2 Shop franchise was successful for many years. Founded by the late Brian Salmon in 1994, it had 47 stores at its peak. It rebranded to $2 n $5 in the early 2000s to allow its franchisees to chase better profit margins, but as competition from similar stores bites, it’s suffered.
The original $2 Shop in New Plymouth closed down at the end of 2018, and all The $2 Shop and $2 n $5 businesses have now been removed from the Companies Register.
That’s not to say that the dollar store format is done for. The Companies Office lists 79 active companies with ‘dollar’ in the name, most of which appear to be variations on the $2 Shop formula.
In the US, discount retail is going from strength to strength. Dollar General is now the largest U.S. retail chain by store count, with more than 15,000 stores, and a recent report from IbisWorld estimates that industry revenue has increased at an annualized rate of 4.0 percent to US$87.4 billion over the five years to 2019.
The reign of the $2 Shop may be over, but for the $5 Dollar Shop, One Dollar Website, My Dollar Store, Dollar Saver and friends, a new era of dollar stores is dawning.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 765 December 2019 / January 2020