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June 5, 2009

Vive La Recession! Good for Dollar General, Bad for Madame Snooty


Where did you get the idea that recessions are bad for business?


It depends on the business. Just ask the people at Dollar General, if you can get their attention in the midst of their busy day. Dollar General’s profits are soaring – and I mean soaring. Last year, the entire company made $5.9 million in profits in the first quarter. This year’s first quarter profits? How about $83 million?


Dollar General is doing so well, it’s spending $275 million to open 450 new stores. Pretty soon, you’ll probably have a Dollar General right next to those dueling CVS and Walgreens stores that are at the corner up the street from you.


Now of course, Dollar General isn’t doing well in spite of the recession. Dollar General is doing well because of the recession. Pretty much everything in a Dollar General store will cost you $10 or less. That includes some stuff I can’t imagine why you would ever want – little plastic trinkets and the like – but it also includes some stuff you might pick up at a higher-end retail store if you were shopping there anyway.


So Americans are flocking to Dollar General and similar stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Stores. By the end of this year, there will be close to 9,000 Dollar General stores in the U.S.


Now what does this mean for the state of our culture and society in general?


There will be, I realize, some bemoaning of this trend. Surely we can’t be far from the release of a new JibJab cartoon in which thousands of people rush into “DollarCorporal” heeding a sign urging them to “buy crap.” If my high school French teacher, Madame Snooty, is still afflicting the Earth with her presence, she will surely lecture her classes on how wrong it is that anyone will buy junk at Dollar General when they could be laying their hands on top-of-the-line merchandise at Nordstrom’s.


(Do you think you could learn French from a fast-talking Chinese woman? You know the answer.)


But it seems to me that our economic troubles started when people who couldn’t afford to live like Madame Snooty started trying to do so anyway, with the help of their handy credit cards. If these folks have now discovered the virtues of thrift, and are shopping in establishments that are better aligned with their economic realities, the recession has served a useful purpose.


Remember, after all, what a recession is – and what it isn’t. A recession simply means that the gross domestic product in a given quarter was less than the previous quarter, and that this happens two quarters in a row. It doesn’t mean the sky is falling and all is lost. And since I bet you can’t tell me what the gross domestic product is, or what it should be, you don’t really have any idea if the GDP receding for a quarter or two is really such a big deal.


It may be that the GDP was ridiculously high in quarter one because too many people were listening to Madame Snooty and buying jogging shorts from Nordstrom’s – all on their credit cards – when jogging shorts for which they could have paid cash at Dollar General would have gotten the job done just as well.


But buying stuff with your credit card – well, you know, that’s like getting it for free! (Or so you tell yourself when you’re making the purchase.) And if you happen to find yourself jogging around Madame Snooty’s neighborhood and she spots you in those $9 shorts from Dollar General . . . oh boy, she’s going to come out on the lawn and start cursing you out in five different languages.


So there you are, decked out in high-end jogging shorts with some elite corporate logo adorning the side, when you decide to stop at the mailbox before your run. And look, there’s your credit card bill!


Long story short: After the neighbors call 911and the EMTs get you to come to, it occurs to you that this elite corporate logo isn’t really making you run any faster or sweat any more proficiently – and maybe the $9 shorts from Dollar General wouldn’t have been such a bad investment after all.


So you and hundreds of thousands of others are instantly reformed, and bang! Recession! But it’s the best kind, and now Dollar General’s profits are going through the roof. None of this will make Madame Snooty happy, of course, but then she did give me a 42 percent on my French final, so Madame Snooty can take the casual attire aisle at Nordstrom’s all the way to Hell as far as I’m concerned.


Vive la recession!


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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