by Dennis Dalman
One of the most common buzz-line questions in Rice these days is, “When is the dollar store going to open?”
Here is the answer, as provided by a company spokesperson: The “Dollar General” store, as it’s officially known, will open in Rice sometime in mid- to late fall, depending on the weather and building schedule.
Under construction for the past two months, the shell of the rectangular 7,300-square-foot store has been built, and its large parking lot has been paved with concrete. It is located on 125th St. N. just across from the Benton County Phone Co-Op on the east side of Hwy. 10.
In a long-distance telephone interview with the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader, Katie Kile of Goodlettsville Tenn. said the store will have a “soft opening” during which customers can shop, and then about a week later it will host a “grand opening” complete with special offers, prizes and coupons.
Kile is media spokesman for Dollar General, whose corporate headquarters is in Goodlettsville. The Rice store, she noted, will be one of more than 12,000 Dollar General stores, mostly in small towns in 43 states. Other Dollar General stores in the central Minnesota area are currently operating in Annandale, Maple Lake, Melrose, Milaca and Richmond. Dollar General has long prided itself in catering to small-town customers who often live quite a distance from big-box stores like Walmart.
“We are thrilled to be in Rice,” Kile said. “We look forward to becoming a part of your community.”
The large size of the store also pleases her. Many of the older Dollar General stores in the nation had to be expanded and updated throughout the years to meet shoppers’ expectations. The one in Rice will have plenty of room for expanded spaces for coolers, better signage for each aisle and sections of seasonal items, such as at Christmas, Halloween and back-to-school times.
Each Dollar General store offers at least 10,000 items that include name-brand products and generic items. The categories of products include health, beauty, home-cleaning supplies, housewares, basic clothing, office supplies, paper and school supplies, greeting cards, toys, pet food and toys for pets, seasonal items, packaged foods, (boxes, cans, bags) and some refrigerated and frozen foods.
Most items are priced $10 or less, and 25 percent of all products cost $1 or less.
Dollar General stores are typically open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week. Some stores, however, stay open only until 9 p.m., Kile noted, adding the company hasn’t yet determined open hours for the Rice store. Dollar General stores are mostly staffed by six to eight employees, Kile noted. Anyone interested in working for the store in Rice can apply any time by visiting: www.dollargeneral.com/careers.
The forerunner of the Dollar General chain of stores was J.L. (James Luther) Turner and Son, a wholesale store founded in 1939 in Scottsville, Ken.
While growing up in Tennessee, the father of J.L. Turner died in an accident in 1902 when J.L. was only 11, forcing him to quit school and work on the farm to help support his mother and siblings. J.L.’s lack of education was the impetus, many years later, of the General Dollar Corp.’s support of literacy programs.
Later, J.L. tried his hand at operating retail stores. He failed twice. Still later, he became a traveling dry-goods salesman for a Nashville wholesale grocer with help from son Cal. Virtually illiterate, J.L. had to rely on his keen observations and wits in his salesman job. It’s a skill that his son, working with him, absorbed along the way, through the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In 1939, the father-son team had moved to Kentucky from Tennessee, and there they opened J.L. Turner and Son in Scottsville after each chipped in $5,000 for the venture. They would buy the contents of liquidated department stores and sell the goods at cut-rate prices. Within two years, the wholesale store became a retail business.
So rapid was their success, they began to branch out during the next 16 years. On June 1, 1955, their first “dollar store” (which they dubbed Dollar General) opened in Springfield, Ken., dedicated to the notion that nothing in it should cost more than a buck.
The store was such a runaway success the Turners opened more Dollar General stores in Kentucky and elsewhere. The father, J.L., died in 1964, leaving Cal at the helm. In 1977, Cal’s son, Cal Turner Jr. made the company a third-generation enterprise when he took the helm. Turner Sr., who had retired, died in 2000. Turner Jr. retired in 2002.
Like all successful business people, J.L. Turner knew the keys to success: a passionate love for what he was doing, hard work, a commitment to innovation and a shrewd savvy when it came to marketing gimmicks.
In 1956, a year after the Dollar General store in Springfield opened, many people in town began a gossipy hotline. Why in the world, they asked themselves and others, were so many grown men beginning to walk around town wearing pink corduroy pants?
The mystery was soon solved. J.L. Turner had gotten wind some Tennessee textile company was having a hard time selling pink corduroy. He shrewdly bought a huge bunch of the material, had it made into men’s pants and started selling them – cheap. The men got razzed, but – what the heck – who could resist buying pants at such a bargain, pink or not?
J.L. also came up with another ingenious marketing strategy. He knew tobacco growers always picked up their paychecks in a cold barn. He told son Cal to go to the barn and give each farmer a left-handed warm jersey glove. If they came to the J.L. Turner and Son store, they could get the right-hand matching glove – free – as long as they cashed their tobacco checks there and, naturally, bought something on the way out.
Since its founding, Dollar General has always emphasized making meaningful connections with the people and organizations in the small towns where it sets up shop.
For decades, Dollar General had contributed money for literacy programs. Then, in 1993, the company started the Dollar General Literacy Program in memory of founder J.L. Turner who had to drop out of school because of family tragedy and who could barely read.
The foundation has given nearly $120 million in grants to schools and programs to promote literacy and to help people work toward high-school equivalency degrees. Since 1993, the program has helped nearly five million people learn to read, complete their G.E.D.s or learn the English language. President Ronald Reagan presented Dollar General with an award at the White House for its long-time literacy work.
Dollar General has also given millions of dollars to other causes, such as the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army Angel Tree program during the holidays and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Dollar General, which spawned other versions of dollar stores, is now known as “America’s largest small-box retail discount store based on volume of sales.” In 2013, it took in a revenue of $16.02 billion. Its assets total $10.37 billion.