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只开一元店,如何做到收入数百亿?学学这家公司吧

王波非(Phil Wahba) 2019年05月26日

凭借711一样的便利和沃尔玛一样低的价格,达乐已经成为美国零售业的巨头。未来它能增长得多大?

图片来源:123RF

肯塔基州的斯科茨维尔是一个仅有4500名居民的小镇。小镇的广场上有一座四四方方的砖房,它也是达乐公司(Dollar General)最老的门店之一。打眼一看,就知道这是一家有年头的商店了。过道里乱糟糟的,天花板很低,灯光昏暗,店里堆着一排排的塑料储物盒、一堆堆的卫生纸,冰柜里塞满了冷冻比萨。这种杂乱中透露着廉价的感觉,很符合人们对一元店的固有印象。

不过进门不远,你就能看到与这里的氛围貌似不太协调的东西——一台貌似还挺高档的冷柜,里面装满了星巴克的饮料,冷柜上面还有大家熟悉的星巴克的笑脸美人鱼标识。在这里,只要花上2美元,就能买一杯双份意式浓缩咖啡,5美元就能买两罐咖啡星冰乐。要知道这里可不是城市,在小镇里能喝到正版星巴克饮品,何尝不是一种低调的奢华。更何况这里离真正的星巴克至少有30分钟的车程。因而这里也成了本地咖啡爱好者趋之若鹜的去处。不过,星冰乐也不是这家一元店里唯一上档次的消费品。这家达乐门店还卖克里格公司的K-Cup咖啡、达能公司的酸奶。就在去年圣诞节前不久,它还开始售卖乐高玩具,价格在8到20美元不等,

哪些人是达乐公司的典型顾客呢?对此,达乐公司的CEO托德·瓦索斯表示:“我可能没有很多钱,但这并不意味着我不想拥有一些好一点的东西。对于这些顾客,我们既可以为他们提供价值,也可以提供他们想要的生活品质。”

瓦索斯对他的目标顾客群的收入水平估计得很准。达乐公司有57%的顾客的家庭年收入不到4.99万美元,30%的顾客的家庭年收入低于2.5万美元。(美国人的家庭年平均收入是6.1万美元。)在撰写此文的过程中,笔者走访了25家达乐的门店,每家商店的橱窗上都有一张很大的海报,上面写着该商店接受食品券。

虽然达乐公司的服务对象是美国经济金字塔的底层,但它的业绩却是美国零售行业最高的之一。2018年,该公司的同店销售额连续第29年保持增长——虽然该公司的电商业务只贡献了很小的销量。这个成绩是任何一家美国主流零售商都无法比拟的。就连号称零售业的霸主的沃尔玛,在2010年代早期也经历了近两年的同比销售额下滑的局面。

更重要的是,在为低收入人群提供品质生活的同时,达乐公司也奇迹般地避开了整个零售行业的雪崩式衰退。2018年,达乐公司的营业收入达到256亿美元,首次超过了梅西百货的销售额。它的股价已经接近历史最高水平,市值达到330亿美元,达到梅西百货的5倍以上。

1955年,达乐公司在肯塔基州的斯普林菲尔德开设了第一家零售店。在之后的60多年里,达乐公司靠着一套非常简单的经营策略成为了美国零售业的巨头之一——走“农村包围城市”战略,专门在大型零售商不愿意来的小镇开店,商店只保留最基本的功能,缩窄售卖的商品类别,限制店员人数,将主要精力放在一件事上:低价,低价,还是低价。大卫·珀杜曾经在2003年至2007年担任达乐公司的CEO,现任美国乔治亚州参议员,他表示:“达乐就像一个孩子,他的爹妈是711和沃尔玛。它以沃尔玛的价格,提供711的便利。”

正是这种奇妙的“结合”,催生出了一个快速成长的家庭。按门店数量计算,达乐目前已经成为美国最大的零售连锁店。10年前,达乐在全美有8400家门店,现在已经增长到15472家了。值得一提的是,大约75%的美国人在家门口5英里的范围内就能找到一家达乐商店。

达乐近几年的增长,与另一个因素也有重要的关系——近些年来,美国人的消费理念出现了深刻的甚至貌似是永久性的变化。现在就连中产阶级家庭也更多地去T.J. Maxx这种折扣店而不是去商场买衣服,他们在购买日用品时,也开始比以前更青睐深度打折的一元店。特尔西咨询集团(Telsey Advisory Group)的分析师乔·费尔德曼认为:“一元店已经越来越被所有各个群体接受。”在经历过经济危机时期的穷日子后,大家都明白了活面子不如活里子这个真理。现在经济复苏了,但大家也习惯了“消费降级”的生活,去一元店购物并不会有什么羞耻感。

一元店行业仍然有很大的发展空间。尼尔森公司的数据显示,一元店是去年美国开店数量唯一上涨的零售类别。不过据一些专家估算,一元店只占全美零售业销售总额的4%。达乐公司还想继续深耕这一市场。在去年年底的一次收益电话会议上,瓦索斯对分析师表示,他认为美国至少还有12000家到13000家一元店的开店空间。光是今年一年,达乐公司就将新开975家门店。就像瓦索斯所说的那样:“现在,省钱是一件比任何时候都时髦的事。”

过去10年里,达乐公司的扩张策略可以说几近完美。店里的那些星巴克饮料为低收入者提供了奢侈的享受,同时也让中等收入家庭更有了几分“配得上身份”之感。现在,达乐公司将中产家庭当作重要的增长来源,而且它也愿意走出传统的舒适区,去牢牢抓住这些中产消费者。

在拓展业务的过程中,如何不损害现有的完美的商业模式,是摆在达乐面前的一个挑战。达乐的商业帝国可以说是在冷冻比萨和薯片上建立起来的。但它现在也在进军新鲜农产品、肉类和健康食品领域,这些领域的成本更高,利润却更低。同时,达乐公司也计划进驻一些较大的城市,并且向西海岸进军——美国西海岸已经被别的一元店品牌占领了,达乐在那里的品牌认知度相比并不高。

为了应对这些风险,达乐公司打算稳扎稳打进行改革,每次只在一小部分门店搞试点。不过不改革肯定是不行的。瓦索斯表示:“零售业正在以前所未有的速度变革,你必须具有足够的灵活性,才能确保你的发展方向是顾客希望你发展的方向。”教训就在瓦索斯的身边。从达乐位于纳什维尔的总部大楼向外望去,不远处就有一家商场,里面的西尔斯百货早已人去楼空。

The boxy, brick-fronted shop in the town square of Scottsville, Ky. (population: 4,500), is one of the oldest stores in the Dollar General chain—and it looks its age. The aisles are cluttered; the ceilings are low; the lights are dim. There are rows of plastic storage containers, towers of paper towels, and fridges full of frozen pizzas—the kind of seemingly random, dirt-cheap bric-a-brac that fits the drab dollar-store stereotype.

But not far past the entrance, shoppers can spot something incongruous: a sleek cooler full of Starbucks drinks, topped by the coffee chain’s smiley mermaid logo. There, a shopper can grab a Doubleshot espresso for $2 or get two cans of frappuccino for $5. They’re the sort of modest extravagances associated more with bougie city thoroughfares than with rural town squares—and, with the nearest actual Starbucks a 30-minute drive away, in Bowling Green, they’re a magnet for caffeine cravers. And frappuccinos aren’t the only semi-upscale impulse purchase on the shelves. This Dollar General also offers Keurig K-Cups and Dannon yogurts; not long before Christmas, it started selling Lego kits priced from $8 to $20.

“Just because I don’t have a lot of money, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel like having some of the finer things,” says Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General, paraphrasing his prototypical shopper. “We can offer her both value and an indulgence she may want.”

Vasos is on target about his customers’ income. Some 57% of Dollar General’s clientele live in households with income of less than $49,900, according to research firm Kantar, and 30% get by on less than $25,000. (The average U.S. household income is just under $61,000.) Of the 25 stores visited in reporting this article, each had a sizable poster in its window saying the location accepts food stamps.

But by serving the bottom of the nation’s economic pyramid, Dollar General has generated one of the top performance records in retail. In 2018, the company reported its 29th straight year of same-store sales growth—despite minimal e-?commerce. That’s a streak no other major U.S. retailer can match: Even mighty Walmart endured nearly two years of comparable-?sales declines earlier this decade.

What’s more, tapping the aspirational strain that Vasos (rhymes with “Bezos”) describes has helped the company sidestep the recent retail meltdown that has vaporized many other national chains’ stores in recent years. Dollar General racked up $25.6?billion in revenue in 2018 and eclipsed Macy’s in retail sales for the first time. Its stock is near an all-time high, giving it a market cap of $33?billion, five times higher than Macy’s.

The chain opened its first retail store in 1955 in Springfield, Ky., and for most of the ensuing six-plus decades, it has thrived with a simple playbook: Open small, no-frills stores in towns that bigger retailers shun; offer a narrow product range; and limit staffing, the better to keep prices cheap, cheap, cheap. “Dollar General was like a child whose parents were 7-Eleven and Walmart,” says David Perdue, the company’s CEO from 2003 to 2007 and now a U.S. senator from Georgia. “It offered 7-Eleven convenience at Walmart prices.”

That metaphorical union has created a fast-growing family. Dollar General is now the largest U.S. retail chain by store count, with 15,472 stores, up from 8,400 a decade ago. Remarkably, some 75% of Americans now live within five miles of a Dollar General.

But another factor has been just as important to the recent surge: a profound, seemingly permanent change in how American consumers shop. Just as middle-class shoppers now buy more apparel at bargain retailer T.J. Maxx than at department stores, they also frequent deep-discount dollar stores more often. “The dollar stores have become a lot more acceptable to all income demographics,” says Telsey Advisory Group analyst Joe Feldman. The privations of the Great Recession scrubbed these unglamorous bargain basements of their stigma; the economy came back, but the stigma didn’t.

The industry has plenty of room to grow. According to Nielsen data, dollar stores were the only category of retail whose total number of U.S. locations increased last year. But by some estimates, they account for only 4% of total retail sales. Dollar General hopes to keep capitalizing. On an earnings call last year, Vasos told analysts that he thought the country had room for another 12,000 or 13,000 dollar-store locations; this year alone, Dollar General will open 975. As Vasos notes, “Saving now is more chic than ever.”

Over the past decade, Dollar General has played the expansion game to perfection. Those Starbucks treats in Scottsville aren’t just splurges for lower-income shoppers; they’re signals to help middle-income ones feel at home. Today the company sees that middle-class market as a crucial source of new growth, and it’s willing to stretch outside its comfort zone to capture them.

The challenge is to make sure stretching doesn’t blow up a perfectly good business model. Having built its empire with the help of frozen pizzas and potato chips, Dollar General is making a bigger push into fresh produce, meats, and healthier fare—arenas where costs are higher and margins slimmer. It also aims to widen its footprint in larger cities and on the West Coast, where other dollar stores are better established and where it has less brand recognition.

To counter these risks, Dollar General plans to change slowly and deliberately, tweaking only a small percentage of its stores at once. But not changing is not an option, says Vasos: “Retail is moving faster than ever, and you have to be flexible to ensure you’re moving where the customer wants you to move.” If Vasos needs a reminder of that, he can check out the view from his headquarters in a Nashville suburb—a vista that includes a mall anchored by a vacant Sears.

****

在20世纪50年代,有一段时期,肯塔基州斯普林菲尔德的很多男性,都穿着亮粉色的灯芯绒裤子。之所以出现这样壮观的场面,还要感谢一位叫卡尔·特纳的人。特纳家认识一位做布料的朋友,一不小心囤了太多的粉色灯芯绒,特纳便劝说这位朋友将这些布料统统做成男裤,他以极低的价格买了下来,然后在自己的商店里以每条裤子1美元的超低价格大量出售。

卡尔·特纳和他的父亲JL·特纳于1939年在肯塔基州的斯科茨维尔开了一家小店,它就是后来达乐公司的前身。这家小店起初是为一家百货公司供货的,后来由于生意不景气,特纳父子便转而为农村地区的低收入家庭提供服务。由于老特纳经营有方,凭借“卖啥都1元”的噱头,这家小公司的分店越来越多,售卖的商品范围也越来越广。

1968年,达乐公司挂牌上市,在接下来的几十年,更是呈爆炸式增长——方法仍然是开更多的一元店,这些商店与老特纳时代的夫妻店并没有什么本质区别。达乐公司始终没有偏离最初令它成功的路线。小卡尔·特纳(卡尔·特纳的儿子,曾经在1977年至2002年间任公司的CEO)在2018年出版的自传中写道:“大多数零售商到了某个阶段,都会抵御不住升级的诱惑。”但达乐公司却不是这样。零售业咨询机构Customer Growth Partners公司的总裁克雷格·约翰逊这样评价达乐:“他们对低收入消费者的需求了如指掌。”

随着时间的推移,达乐公司已经总结了一套可靠的开店公式。它的门店通常开在人口不到2万人的小镇——这样小的市场不足以吸引来沃尔玛等大型超市与其竞争。它的门店平均占地7500平方英尺左右,还不到一个沃尔玛超市的零头。它销售的商品不会超过1万件(沃尔玛是它的10倍)。在这种规模下,一家达乐商店每值一个班,只需要两到三名员工。而且由于小镇的房价和工资都比较低,达乐可以将其绝大多数产品的价格控制在10美元以下,同时仍然能够获得可观的利润。

这个公式意味着消费者在店里只能买到一两个品牌的花生酱,或者两三个型号的洗衣粉,而不像大型超市那样有各种各样的品牌供你选择。达乐商店里的漂白剂、洗洁精等商品的规格也比其他超市小,经济条件较好的购物者有可能会误以为这些是“旅行装”。但对于到一元店购物的消费者来说,他们之所以会买小号的洗洁精,很可能是因为他们手里的钱只够买它。

达乐的经营方法虽然带来了显著增长,但随着时间的推移,效率不足的问题也暴露了出来。到2007年,它的销售额增长率已经落后于它的两个主要竞争对手Family Dollar和Dollar Tree。松散的库存管理意味着受欢迎的商品经常缺货,与此同时,它的很多商店都很破旧。

私募巨头KKR公司认为,只要对达乐的管理层进行重组,它的增长势头很快就能反弹。于是2007年,KKR以70亿美元收购了达乐。仅仅两年后,KKR便推动达乐再次上市。这也是KKR有史以来最成功的交易之一。2013年底,KKR出售了其持有的最后一批达乐股票,此时达乐的股价已经比2009年的IPO价格翻了近三番。到今年5月,已经翻了将近六番。

达乐的成功转型,得益于KKR引入的一支精干的管理团队,这些高管在药店和超市行业拥有丰富的经验 (瓦索斯本人就在药店行业摸爬滚打多年),他们做出的战略决定,也帮助达乐从其他零售商那里抢来了更多顾客。达乐不断地改造店面,改善照明设备,使购物区更加宽敞。新开的门店也更加时尚和井井有条。

达乐公司也大力改进了库存管理。有时当商店经理意识到对同一商品销售了太多不同版本时,就会下架多余的商品。同时它也加大了自有品牌的销售力度,自有品牌商品一方面利润更高,另一方面也能更加自由地提供非标准的小号包装。现在的达乐对顾客的理解已经到了细致得惊人的地步。每个季度,达乐都会对几十万名消费者进行访问,每年还会进行一次“深度”调查,所有这些都是为了确保店里的1万件商品符合顾客的需求。

一元店里未必卖的都是不知名的牌子。达乐的快速增长和影响力,让可口可乐和好时等大品牌也不敢轻视。在产品的大小和包装上,这些大品牌也更愿意听从达乐的意见,甚至愿意在达乐的商店里做销售展示,这可是以前高档零售商超才有的待遇。AlixPartners公司的零售业务总经理乔尔·拉姆伯特表示:“曾经有一段时间,那些大型的消费性包装产品公司只希望一元店早点消失,但是他们现在也需要一元店这个渠道。”

At one point in the 1950s, a surprisingly large contingent of the men in Springfield, Ky., were wearing bright pink corduroy pants. For that sartorial adventurism, they could thank Cal Turner. A family friend had been swimming in an oversupply of the fabric. Turner persuaded the friend to turn it into men’s pants, which he bought for a pittance and sold in enormous quantities at his own store—at the low price of $1 a pair.

Cal and his father, J.L. Turner, had started the business that became Dollar General in Scottsville, Ky., in 1939. The company was originally a wholesaler serving department stores, but when business faltered, the Turners went down-market to serve lower-income rural shoppers. Under J.L.’s leadership, the company gradually expanded into more stores, riding the success of the one-dollar-an-item gimmick while selling a broad enough assortment to justify its original name: Dollar General Stores.

The company went public in 1968, and it grew explosively in the next decades—often at the expense of the kinds of mom-and-pop stores that the Turners had once operated. It never strayed from what made it successful. “Most retailers at one point or another fall prey to the temptation to upgrade,” Cal Turner Jr., Cal’s son and the company’s CEO from 1977 to 2002, wrote in his 2018 autobiography. Not Dollar General: “They know the wants and needs of the lower-income shopper like the back of their hands,” says Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.

Over time, the company translated that knowledge into a reliable formula. It has typically focused on towns of no more than 20,000 people—markets too minor for Walmart and big grocers to bother with. Its stores average around 7,500 square feet, tiny compared to a Walmart super?center. It sells no more than 10,000 items (a big Walmart might sell 10 times as many). At that scale, a Dollar General store needs only two or three employees on any shift. And with real estate and labor costs low, Dollar General can keep the vast majority of its items under $10 and still turn a tidy profit.

The formula means a Dollar General shopper might find only one or two brands of peanut butter or three sizes of Tide laundry detergent, rather than the endless assortment at big-box rivals. The chain also emphasizes smaller formats of products like bleach and dish soap. A more affluent shopper might think of these as “travel size”; for dollar-store customers, it’s often a matter of buying only as much as they can afford at that moment.

Dollar General’s approach sparked remarkable growth, but over time, efficiency suffered. By 2007, its sales growth was lagging its two rivals, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. Lax inventory management meant favored items were often out of stock, and many stores were shabby.

Private equity juggernaut KKR saw Dollar General as a company that could rally with a management shake-up, and it bought the company for $7 billion in 2007. It took Dollar General public again just two years later—in what turned into one of its most successful deals ever. By the time KKR sold off the last of its shares, around the end of 2013, Dollar General’s shares had nearly tripled from their 2009 IPO price. By this May, they’d risen almost sixfold.

Key to the turnaround was KKR’s decision to bring in a crack team of executives with experience in the drugstore and supermarket world (including Vasos, an Eckerd and Longs Drugs veteran). That team, in turn, made strategic choices that helped Dollar General woo customers away from such retailers. The company continually remodeled stores, improving lighting and making shopping areas more spacious; new stores were better organized and sleeker.

Dollar General also vastly improved its inventory management. It removed redundant products, as managers realized they sold too many versions of the same items. It ramped up its private label brands, which sold at higher margins and gave the store freedom to offer nonstandard, smaller sizes. Today the company knows its shoppers at a surprisingly granular level. Dollar General does panel interviews each quarter with hundreds of thousands of shoppers, along with an annual “go deep” survey, all designed to make sure that its 10,000-product lineup matches what its customers want.

That lineup isn’t limited to no-name brands. Its enormous growth and reach have given Dollar General even more clout with national brands like Coca-Cola and Hershey. They’re more likely to give the chain the sizes and packaging it wants, along with better-looking point-of-sale displays once reserved for fancier retailers. “There was a time the big consumer packaged-goods companies just hoped it would go away,” says Joel Rampoldt, a managing director in AlixPartners’ retail practice. “Now they need the dollar-store channel.”

****

虽然达乐的管理层非常擅于经营,但如果没有经济危机对原有消费结构造成的严重冲击,它可能永远也无法达到现在的高度。2009年和2010年,虽然消费者越来越缺钱,穷人越来越多,达乐却还在扩张门店和产品种类。很多中产消费者也背叛了沃尔玛、塔吉特百货等各大超市和药店,成了达乐的忠实顾客。

随着经济好转和失业率下降,很多分析师认为,一元店的鼎盛时期可能已经过去了。不过经济危机后,工资并未恢复原来的水平,工薪阶层和中产阶层也已经养成了消费降级的习惯。消费品研究公司TABS Analytics的执行总裁库尔特·捷达认为,贫富差距也是让达乐能够继续发展壮大的一个重要原因。

在争夺消费者的战争中,还有一些竞争对手主动给达乐送了一波助攻。比如CVS在2014年停止卖香烟,烟民们只得去一元店买店。沃尔玛把它的服装和美容产品搞得更加高端化,将低端市场拱手让给了一元店。

As savvy as its management has been, Dollar General might never have reached its current heights without the dramatic disruption of the Great Recession. In 2009 and 2010, the company was broadening its assortment and improving its stores even as the ranks of cash-strapped shoppers surged. Middle-class consumers defected to Dollar General and its rivals from Walmart, Target, drugstores, and supermarkets.

As the economy improved and unemployment fell, many analysts assumed the dollar stores would give up some of their gains. But wages didn’t recover, and the working and middle classes remained cost-conscious. Kurt Jetta, executive chairman of -consumer-goods research firm TABS Analytics, says income inequality is a key reason the dollar-store juggernaut has continued to roll.

In the enduring battle for shoppers, Dollar General also got an assist from some rivals. CVS, for example, stopped selling tobacco in 2014, driving smokers to dollar stores. (See our feature on CVS in this issue.) Walmart, meanwhile, tweaked its clothing and beauty-product assortment to make them more upscale, ceding some of the lower end to the $1 crowd.

****

关于一元店的五大传说

美国有近3.2万家一元店,而且它们越来越不符合大家心目中对一元店的传统印象。

传说一:件件都1元

几十年来,这一点基本上是正确的。Dollar Tree开了15300家商店,也仍然遵循着这一准则。不过达乐和Family Dollar等一元店中的多数商品的价格是在1到10美元不等。

传说二:只有穷人才到那购物

在经济危机期间,一元店也走进了中产阶级的生活。2018年的一项调查显示,在一元店的老主顾中,有21%的人的家庭年收入在10万美元以上。

传说三:他们只卖垃圾食品

没错,一元店里主要卖的是冷冻比萨和包装零食。但是一些大型连锁品牌现在也加入了一些健康食品,比如新鲜农产品等。

传说四:他们卖的都是清仓处理的垃圾产品

一元店以前确实是卖清仓处理商品的地方。但现在他们的影响力越来越大,连宝洁和可口可乐也要专门为他们定制产品。

传说五:一元店只在偏僻的地方开

一元店确实主要开在农村地区和小城镇,不过Dollar Tree在市区和城市近郊也有坚实的存在,达乐公司也在扩展这个市场。

Five Myths About Dollar Stores

The nation now has nearly 32,000 dollar stores, and they’re increasingly unlikely to match their popular stereotypes.

Myth No. 1: Everything Costs $1

That was largely true for decades, and it still is at the 15,300-store Dollar Tree chain. But the bulk of items for sale at Family Dollar and Dollar General cost between $1 and $10.

Myth No. 2: Only poor people shop there

Dollar stores made inroads into the middle class during the Great Recession. In a 2018 Inmar survey of dollar-store patrons, 21% reported annual household income of $100,000 or more.

Myth No. 3: They sell only junk food

Yes, frozen ?pizzas and packaged snacks abound at dollar stores. But major chains are now adding healthier fare, including fresh produce at some locations.

Myth No. 4: Their merchandise is closeout junk

Dollar stores once sold a mishmash of clearance and overstock items. But such is their clout now that consumer giants like P&G and Coca-Cola make products just for them.

Myth No. 5: They’re only in remote areas

While the chains do skew toward rural America and smaller towns, Dollar Tree has a strong presence in cities and suburbs, and Dollar General is expanding there.

****

常言说得好:塞翁失马,焉知非福。2015年,达乐的主要竞争对手Dollar Tree在竞标中击败达乐,成功收购了另一家业绩较弱的一元店品牌Family Dollar。然而这次收购严重阻碍了Dollar Tree的发展,二者合并后的新公司拥有15300家门店,与达乐不相上下,不过由于对Family Dollar的数百家门店进行了大修,合并后Dollar Tree的增长已经放缓,最近该公司还因为这笔交易而减记了27亿美元。

在争夺主要顾客群的战争中,所有这些因素使达乐已经站在了领跑者的位置。据摩根大通最近估计,一元店增长最快的顾客群将是那些年收入在5万到7.5万美元之间的家庭。达乐将那些最常光顾的购物者,也就是那些收入最低的家庭称为“永远最好的朋友”,将中等收入顾客称为“朋友”,而对于那些中等偏上收入家庭则称之为“老朋友”。而且达乐也很愿意更好地了解这些“老朋友”。

Perhaps the biggest windfall came disguised as a setback, when archrival Dollar Tree beat Dollar General in a bidding war for the weaker-performing Family Dollar. That 2015 acquisition has seriously hampered Dollar Tree. The combined company has 15,300 stores, almost as many as Dollar General, but its growth has slowed as it overhauls hundreds of Family Dollar locations. Dollar Tree recently took a $2.7 billion write-down related to the merger.

All these factors put Dollar General in the pole position in the race to serve households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. Those are the fastest-growing part of its clientele, J.P. Morgan recently estimated. Dollar General refers to its most frequent shoppers, those with the lowest annual incomes, as “BFFs,” or best friends forever, while mid-tier shoppers are “friends.” The next tier up, the one J.P. Morgan identified as the fastest growers, are “acquain?tances,” and Dollar General would like to know them much better.

****

从商业角度看,卖碎牛肉和西红柿,本来就比卖玉米片和冷冻墨西哥卷饼的风险更大。农产品和鲜肉极易变质,员工需要密切关注它们,如果变质了,就要立即处理掉。零售业咨询师克雷格·约翰逊表示:“在这方面,需要投入的管理要比以前高得多。”新鲜食品的利润本来就不高,再加上劳动成本的上涨,或许会使利润更加单薄。

尽管存在这些麻烦,但新鲜食品很可能是达乐下一阶段的关键增长点——尤其是如果它想让“永远最好的朋友”和“老朋友”多来光顾的话。穆迪的分析师米奇·查达表示:“关键是要让顾客额外挑选一件以前不会买的东西。”根据尼尔森公司的数据,消费者平均每次在一元店会消费13美元,而在沃尔玛等大型超市则会消费40美元。以达乐的备货规模,在日常食品上要想取代大型超市是不可能的。但只要消费者每次进店多买一样东西,就会对公司收益产生很大影响。

达乐公司已经有证据表明,发展食品业务是一个正确选择。该公司称,传统的达乐商店在添加了几台冰柜后(说明他们增添了食品种类),第一年的收入一般会增加10%到15%。现在,达乐已经开始在450家门店销售农产品,其中包括2003年推出的几十家小型超市。达乐今年还将额外在200家门店投放农产品。相比它一万多家的门店数量,200家只是一个小数字,不过也足以试验食品是否能激发消费者的忠诚度了。

达乐公司也在采取各种措施,确保食品的库存和其他产品库存一样受到严格管理。比如它目前正在宾西法尼亚州测试一个冷库设施,这个冷库将仅用于存储其自有商店的易变质食品。达乐的店长杰森·雷瑟表示,测试该冷库的目的是降低系统性成本,避免热门商品缺货,“将命运掌握在自己手里”。比如如果达乐公司能将牛奶更早地放进冷却装置,以减少变质造成的浪费,它在牛奶上的利润有可能会翻一番。

达乐永远不会成为全食公司。在田纳西州亨德森维尔的一家达乐商店里,最贵的红酒是Barefoot Moscato,一瓶只卖13.1美元。不过它新推出的食品却包括了很多富裕阶层的消费者也喜欢的东西。达乐正在更多商店推出“更适合你”的产品,如它自家经营的“Good & Smart”商标下的产品,以及Annie’s、Nature Valley和Kashi等知名品牌的产品。达乐也开始卖水果了,而且它的展示方式也令这些水果显得很诱人——这些水果装在貌似由木头做成的箱子里,只有凑近了看,才能发现它们是塑料做的。

As a business proposition, selling ground beef and tomatoes is inherently riskier than selling corn chips and frozen burritos. Produce and fresh meat spoil; employees need to keep a close eye on them and toss them if they go bad. “You’re talking about a level of supervision that is much higher,” says Craig Johnson, the retail consultant. That can mean higher labor costs that eat into the notoriously thin fresh-food margins.

Despite that hassle, fresh food could be the key to Dollar General’s next growth phase—especially if it makes both “BFFs” and “acquaintances” visit more often. “The key is to have [customers] pick up an extra item that they would not have in the past,” says Moody’s analyst Mickey Chadha. Shoppers spend $13 on the average dollar-store visit, according to Nielsen, compared with $40 at a big-box store like Walmart. Dollar General doesn’t have the product selection to replace supermarkets for regular food runs, but capturing just one more purchase per visit has a big impact on revenue.

The company already has evidence that food pays. It says that at traditional Dollar General stores that add a bunch of refrigerators—a sign that they’re expanding their food options—sales typically increase 10% to 15% in the first year. Dollar General sells produce at 450 of its stores, including a few dozen in a mini-supermarket format that it launched in 2003. It’ll add such items at an additional 200 stores this year, a tiny fraction of its fleet but a big enough laboratory to test whether food spurs greater loyalty.

Behind the scenes, the company is taking steps to make sure its food inventory is as tightly managed as the rest of its lineup. Among other major initiatives, it is testing a cold-storage facility in Pennsylvania that’s just for perishable food in its own stores. The idea is to take costs out of the system, avoid being out of stock of popular products, and have “control over our destiny,” says chief merchant Jason Reiser. Dollar General could potentially double its profit margin on milk, for example, by getting it to coolers earlier, reducing spoilage.

Dollar General will never be Whole Foods. At a store in Hendersonville, Tenn., the most expensive wine is a Barefoot Moscato, at $13.10 a bottle. But its new food offerings include many of the aspirational trappings that more affluent shoppers prefer. The chain is introducing “better for you” products at more stores, including foods marketed under its own “Good & Smart” label, alongside name brands like Annie’s, Nature Valley, and Kashi. The stores that sell fruits, meanwhile, present them in surprisingly inviting displays, in crates that look like they’re made of wood—and reveal themselves as plastic only when you get close enough to touch them.

****

最近,罗利、纳什维尔或者费城的消费者在逛街时,可能会无意中路过一个持着“DGX”标志的现代化的小店面。这些商店是达乐公司的另一个实验品。它们开在城市的中心,主打功能饮料和外卖三明治等产品,旨在吸引更年轻的消费者。今年还将有10家DGX商店将陆续开业,它们将成为达乐与Dollar Tree竞争的新战线——毕竟Dollar Tree在达乐垂涎的城市地区已经深耕多年。

但即使是对于这些门店,达乐也没有从根本上改变它的成功秘诀。DGX商店里虽然有寿司、加州起泡酒和乐高玩具,但大部分商品的价格依然在1美元以下。而且它们都是基本的、必不可少的东西。在这里,1美元可以买4卷卫生纸,一个鸡肉派(虽然营养差了点,但也够顶一顿饭了)。这也说明,达乐的核心顾客群仍然是那些没有多余的奢侈空间的消费者。雷瑟表示:“1美元并不是冲动性消费的价格点,而是‘如何才能挺过这个月’的价格点。”

就连达乐公司采用的技术装备也反映了这个沉甸甸的事实。越来越多的达乐商店都在过道里摆放了很多价格扫描设备,好方便消费者计算消费总额,以便他们到了收银台,才发现身上的钱不够用。一位公司高管表示:“他们的预算里,并不总是有那多出来的1美元。”而公司最不愿意做的,就是让他们在结账时感到尴尬。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年6月刊,标题为《如果沃尔玛和711有个孩子……》。

译者:朴成奎

Shoppers wandering through downtown Raleigh, Nashville, or Philadelphia recently may have stumbled upon a small, ?modern-looking storefront under a “DGX” sign. These stores are another Dollar General experiment: They’re placed in city centers, and they emphasize products like energy drinks and grab-and-go sandwiches in a strategy aimed at younger shoppers. Ten more DGX stores will open this year; they’ll be a new front in Dollar General’s competition with Dollar Tree, which is better established in the urban areas Dollar General covets.

But even at these stores, Dollar General is not fundamentally changing its recipe for success. There may be sushi, sparkling California wine, and Lego sets, but much of the selection at DGX is still priced at $1 or less. These are basic, almost essential items: four rolls of toilet paper for $1, for example, or a $1 chicken pot pie that, for all its potential nutritional drawbacks, still adds up to a meal. They’re also reminders that Dollar General’s core business still depends on the patronage of shoppers without much room for luxury. “One dollar isn’t an impulse price point; it is a ‘get-through-the-month’ price point,” says Reiser, the chief merchant.

Even Dollar General’s tech reflects this reality. A growing number of stores have price-checking scanners sprinkled through the aisles. The idea is to help shoppers keep track of their totals, lest they get to the cash register and realize they don’t have enough money. “They don’t always have that extra dollar in their budget,” says one executive; the last thing the company wants to do is embarrass them at checkout.

A version of this article appears in the June 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “‘If Walmart and 7-Eleven Had a Baby…'”

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