Dollar store trade booming

“This is the most successful business I’ve ever been in, hands down,” says Mr. Uzelman, who over the course of his career, has sold everything from soft drinks to home insulation….“We wanted a higher-end concept,” he says. “That was our idea from the start.”

National Post
March 17, 2003

Dollar store trade booming
B.C.-based business finds a niche with thrifty consumers
John Greenwood

VANCOUVER – Sharp-eyed visitors to David Uzelman’s home in Kelowna, B.C. are likely to spot a good number of products from the shelves of his dollar store chain at use in the family kitchen or adorning the walls of the living room.

“My wife is a regular shopper,” says Mr. Uzelman proudly.

Apparently, a lot of other people shop there as well. Less than five years after he opened his first Your Dollar Store With More location, the franchise has mushroomed to more than 140 stores in Canada and 23 in the United States.

The company is private and does not release sales figures but Mr. Uzelman, who is 53, believes it is one of the largest dollar store chains in the country.

“This is the most successful business I’ve ever been in, hands down,” says Mr. Uzelman, who over the course of his career, has sold everything from soft drinks to home insulation.

Since the first dollar stores began to appear in the late 1980s, the concept has proliferated across the retail landscape. Mr. Uzelman is riding the wave.

Like many of his competitors, Mr. Uzelman’s chain sells everything from wrapping paper and stationery, to toys, kitchen products and dishwashing detergent. But he has differentiated his stores by offering more expensive merchandise as well.

“We wanted a higher-end concept,” he says. “That was our idea from the start.”

According to Blake Hudema, a retail consultant in Vancouver, the discount store concept is popular in times of economic instability.

“They have a very realistic market that they are serving,” he says. Consumers go to dollar stores in search of bargains on utilitarian so that they can have more of their income left over to spend on luxuries.

“To their credit, they go a long way to satisfy a big range of customers. You never know exactly what you’ll find then you go in…it’s almost like a mini-bazaar,” Mr. Hudema said.

Mr. Uzelman reckons he began his education in retail at the age of eight, helping gout at his father’s hardware store in Paradise Hills, Sask.

After high school, he took a job at another hardware chain, later going to work for Canada Dry.

At 27, he bought a hotel, not far from Prince Albert, Sask.

“I was the bouncer, the cleaningman and the bookkeeper,” he recalls.

By his mid-30s, he had his own A&W franchise. He spent 15 years with the organization, eventually amassing a small empire of seven restaurants. Having learned the ins and outs of running a franchise, he decided it was time to start his own.

He quickly settled on the dollar store idea, which at the time was still growing fast.

With his own money he opened two stores in Kelowna, where he was living at the time. The idea was to learn the business and iron out the kinks before he began selling franchises. The first ones went to his family – his four children all work in the business, as do two of his siblings.

For their $150,000 fee, franchisees get a full set of instructions on how to set up and run a dollar store. The low price – according to Mr. Uzelman, fees for most other franchisees are a lot higher – is part of the reason he has attracted so many people who want to open up stores under his company name.

But there are a lot more dollar stores now than there were even a year ago. In fact most shopping centres and malls already have one.

“The big growth period is over,” says Mr. Uzelman.

“As with any retail business it is the companies that are well-run that are going to survive. The others go by the wayside.”

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