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How to skip the duds at the dollar store

By Susan Salisbury
Palm Beach Post

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Dollar stores are either a place to snatch up bargains, or a money-waster.

It’s all in your perspective and your self-control. Common sense tells us not to fill a cart with stuff we don’t need. But there are deals to be had.

Who can resist a Jif Peanut Butter to Go three-pack for $1, when it’s $3.99 elsewhere? What about Scrub Buddies, a two-pack but slightly smaller knockoff of Mr. Clean’s Magic Erasers, which go for $2.49?

“Every time I come here with a budget, I always go over it,” said Anthony Allen of Lake Worth, Fla., while recently shopping at Dollar Tree in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Allen, who works for another retailer, was eyeing the scads of Christmas decorations. He plans to buy the $1 ornaments to make his own wreath, rather than pay $34 and up for a pre-decorated wreath.

Seasonal decorations and party supplies are among the most popular items in dollar stores.

Pay attention to quality, check labels and stick with national brands. What Dollar Tree calls its “million-dollar brands” include Ultra Laundry Detergent, Ajax dishwashing liquid, Renuzit air fresheners, Lady Speed Stick deodorant, VO5 shampoo, Campbell’s soup and many others.

Watch out for products with labels that mimic name brands, but aren’t, such as Enregin brand cleansers with the same colors and label style as Neutrogena’s products.

Consumers browse for items they typically buy at a regular grocery store, and save money, a study by The Hartman Group Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., found. While 42 percent of shoppers go to dollar stores more than once a month, consumers are more likely to buy food and beverages elsewhere.

Hartman’s definition of dollar stores includes Dollar General and Family Dollar, which have merchandise that’s more than $1.

David Wright, Hartman’s senior manager, marketing, said those two retailers and Dollar Tree are planning to open more than 1,500 new stores in the U.S. in the next year and remodel many existing stores.

“The channel is growing because shoppers are interested in discount shopping, which now includes a growing assortment of foods and beverages, ‘the treasure hunt’ that they believe such stores provide, and because the stores can be located in diverse locations ranging from urban to suburban and rural,” Wright said.

Convenience, with stores small enough to zip through quickly and parking usually right outside the door, as well as low prices draw customers of all income levels.

About half of people with household incomes of $150,000 a year or more say they shop at dollar stores, a recent survey of 2,000 adults by Chicago-based Mintel found.

Trinkets for party favors are another favorite of 
dollar-store shoppers.

“I come here for treasure box toys, and party favors,” said Dayree Gonzalez, a West Palm Beach, Fla., mother of two. She especially likes the coloring books and flash cards.

Liesette Heyden of Lake Worth, Fla., loves the cleaning supplies, shampoo and soap, and finds the holiday decorations a lot of value packed into $1 each.

What about those name brands? Is the Crest toothpaste sold at Dollar Tree really Crest? A Procter & Gamble representative said yes, it is, and if not specified otherwise, it is made in the U.S. Anything made in a foreign country must be stamped with that information.

Candy is another big draw. Some people buy it before heading for the movies, where it costs much more.


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