SEBRING — When Dollar General spent $1.1 million to build a second store for Avon Park, the 75-year-old, Goodlettsville, Tenn. corporation didn’t choose another shopping center location like the one next to Winn-Dixie, Bealls Outlet and Big Lots.
The new 9,014-square-foot store went two miles north on State Road 64, between the spread-out subdivisions of Avon Park Lakes and Avon Park Estates.
“It may seem like an out-of-the way place,” Dan MacDonald admitted. He is the senior director of corporate communications for the company, a Wall Street darling whose stock has climbed from $22.73 to a five-year high of $62.87 on Jan. 10.
“Our business philosophy had stayed true over the years,” MacDonald said. “We want to serve the underserved.”
And that’s the reason why in Highlands County, Family Dollar built store number 10983 at Ridgewood and Sebring Parkway, to serve the downtown and Washington Heights neighborhoods.
“I was very happy,” said Jennifer North, who rode her Mongoose bike to the store for two sacks full of cat litter, batteries and other household goods.
The nearest Publix is 2.7 miles away at Southgate Shopping Center in South Sebring, and Walmart is 5.3 miles away.
“Which would be hard for me,” North said. And a little dangerous, suspending plastic sacks on a bike while pedaling across streets and highways.
In the new competitive landscape, dollar stores have shifted back to neighborhood concepts.
Dollar stores make their living by finding chinks in Walmart’s armor. In July 2012, Walmart opened a second supercenter in Highlands County -- a 190,819-square-foot store in north Avon Park. But it can’t open a supercenter at Spring Lake.
Dollar General did.
“I go into town every morning anyway,” said Smith, a Spring Lake resident. Nevertheless, it’s become a once-a-week stop for Steve Smith, who was there Wednesday morning for a package of peanuts and few other items. Walmart is 16.6 miles away
To boost U.S. sales, Walmart is increasing the number of its small-format Neighborhood Market and Express stores, said the investor blog Motley Fool. “By doing so, Walmart will start to challenge the three big dollar store chains: Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree.”
Dollar Tree is opening about 300 stores a year, and one is going into the old Save-A-Lot at Main and U.S. 27 in Avon Park. Plans are filed at the Highlands County building office for a 9,963-square-foot store.
All three of the dollar stores are massive national chains, and all are Fortune 500 companies: Dollar General has around 11,000 stores, Family Dollar has 7,900, and Dollar Tree has nearly 5,000, the Motley Food reported. Today, Walmart operates over 11,000 retail units under 71 banners in 27 countries, employ 1.3 million American workers.
Dollar General’s newest stores in Highlands County — Spring Lake, west Avon Park, Tanglewood and DeSoto City — all followed retail rules and traffic patterns, MacDonald said: 5,000 people within five miles or 10 minutes of the front door, no U-turns to get to the store.
“We’re in a lot of towns where we are the only retailer,” MacDonald said.