DOLLAR STORE APOCALYPSE
Way back around two years ago I covered shopping at the dollar store for prep supplies. As I recall, it was a bit of uninspired fluff. A few examples of what you could expect there. The 100 safety pins or 50 feet of rope, or whatever. This articles doesn’t promise to be much more exciting, but it might actually be the last one I write. It certainly can’t be too much longer before the dollar stores go the way of the five and dime. If you recall, Woolworths survived inflation, for a time. But in the end the chain went under. I’m beginning to wonder if Wal-Mart is going to survive. They abandon their core customer after decades, the working poor. I loved Wal-Mart. In the mid to late nineties after the food section started, they were really the only thing saving my poor butt from going on welfare. Yes, I know they benefited from cheap borrowing and cheap oil and were merely a symptom of the last of the good times, not the cause. But I still felt grateful for the lowest prices around on everything one could need in life. Before this became a blog, when I was e-mailing my articles as a weekly newsletter ( the Bison Newsletter is available as an e-book at www.bisonpress.com ) I wrote a lengthy article on how to buy all your survival supplies at Wal-Mart ( to save you the suspense, I don’t think it could be done anymore ). That was how good their selection and prices were.
Today, Wal-Mart is coming within kissing distance of Target and Albertsons. Actually, in some ways they are even flirting with K-Mart. Instead of “Low Price Leader” they are becoming the “Low Prices For The Middle Class Only”. If you want to buy the cheapest name brands, go to Wal-Mart. If you want the cheapest generic, go anywhere else. A shame, giving up their lead in helping the employed poor. Our numbers will grow steadily. But, despite being disloyal, Wal-Mart is not run by idiots. They know that low priced merchandise from China is on the way out. And to survive, to keep up the multi-million dollar bonuses to Sam’s descendents and to service all the debt used to expand, they are going to have to move from razor thin margins. That kind of business was only possible when fuel was cheap and freight costs from China were negligible. That day is ending, if it already hasn’t. So, no, Wal-Mart won’t be offering $1 deodorant. Instead, they will offer $2.50 deodorant in brand names whereas all their competitors are selling it for $3. The costs are the same, generic or branded, but there is no profit in the lower priced item. That nickel profit is now going to pay extra fuel costs. Now, actually having no idea at all about their costs, profits or markups, I’m still going to guess that the end profit is the same. Instead of selling non profitable $1 items to the growing numbers of poor, they will sell higher profit items to the shrinking number of middle class folks. Their distribution/retail cost is still the cheapest. This will buy them some time, at the very least. In the end of course, they are doomed. It all still hinges on affordable oil. They are sidestepping the cheap oil issue, but they can’t survive the affordability issue. Or the availability issue.
But they will outlive the dollar stores. The buck an item stores are on borrowed time. For now, they can increase their volume as more and more desperate consumers flock in their doors, panic and despair forcing them into sacrificing quality. That will pay for the increased shipping costs. And of course, don’t forget the infamous labor cutting. Just do more and more with fewer people. The workers can’t complain, there are no other jobs out there. And even though the customers complain, they will still come back and wait in line. Anymore, having a dollar store in town is a blessing. And there is usually just one ( keep in mind that this whole article focuses on the one dollar an item stores, not the lower price stores with “dollar” in their titles- they operate under a different dynamic ). So, you won’t see these stores disappearing immediately. Another factor stretching out their lives will be the crashing commercial real estate market. The landlord won’t be too demanding on high rents when empty stores surround downtowns. They might even be forced to decrease rent. At the very least freeze the amounts. However. In the end, you simply won’t be able to buy dollar crap anymore. Most of it is from China, and fuel costs just keep going up.
You need to enjoy the moment while you can. Start going to the dollar store every week, and buy as much crap as you can. You can still get five cigarette lighters, four AA batteries, three bars of hand soap, sewing supplies, rope and flip-flops and laundry soap and dish soap and a lot of other great stuff that will help you with your own personal Alpha Strategy. I stopped buying bulk food for now, really having maxed out on room. I’ll figure something else out soon. But for now, I started stockpiling small items. The only food I still get is pinto beans, several pounds a week. I get empty coffee cans at work ( get those while you can also, it seems the plastic and waxed paper cans are taking over as steel prices shoot up- remember how mashed potatoes went from cheap in cans to expensive in cardboard ) and fill those with the beans. As suggested long ago by a forgotten soul, put the lid on and flip upside down with bottom metal facing up for storage. Almost guaranteed rodent proof. And now the dollar store gets a lot of my prep dollars. Last week I bought my usual vitamin pills ( ok, perhaps cheaper in bulk at Wal-Mart, but it is painless at a buck a pop and I buy a months supply every week. Plus, those thick plastic bottles have to come in handy someday ). Shoe polish. Two knife sharpeners. I like those, the kind that you roll along to get the entire edge on one side of the knife ( it looks like two wheels with the stone in between ). #4 got a Hanes T-shirt. Color, sleeveless, big enough to wear as a dress for next summers lounging about. My newest project is to stockpile as many socks as I can in my limited drawer space. I’m still finding three pairs for a buck nylon socks. Not great quality, but perfect for stocking up on factory made socks.
As usually, you have a limited window of action to get needed supplies at affordable prices. I can still buy wool cold water soap at the dollar store. But it is half the size as I used to get. How much longer before it isn’t even offered? I found great one time arrivals such as $1 mac and cheese ( the creamy cheese kind, not the powdered cheese ) or, incredibly, just last week eight ounces of parmesan cheese for a buck. I bought the last of the sweet and sour liquid bottles for the rice stash. Even rice at fifty cents a pound for a short while. They had one week where you could buy all beef summer sausage 12 oz. So, not only can you find one time bargains, but you also need to fully stock up on everyday items before they shrink in size or are dropped. Go hither to the dollar store and prosper ( limited time only at participating stores ).