There may be war in Ukraine, but here in small-town Summerland our combat is between two dollar stores, each located side by side just off highway 97 at Prairie Valley Road. There are no corpses laying on the busy parking lot. No missiles soar through the winter sky. In fact, there are no obvious signs of hostility or casualty. Make no mistake however, a competitive strategy is in play, and the outcome remains unpredictable.
The local store, “Your Dollar Store” — a one-off locally owned business, provides a massive range of products affordable for most if not all customers – provides sturdy competition to the companion business right next door. The chain store, Dollarama moved in afterward, setting up shop right next door – not down the street or across town, but right next door.
It is sometimes said that where there is a hardware store on one corner it is good business to build another across the street. Such a strategy guarantees ample supply and competitive pricing. At one time there were three Starbucks on Vancouver’s Denman Street. It is well known however that larger chains such as Dollarama end up, either by design or circumstance, to absorb competition – such an intentional strategy is employed by Walmart and other larger chains who seek to poach customer support from local businesses. Efficiency is one thing; monopoly is another. Elsewhere in BC attempts to curb such exploitative strategies have been effective in places such as Nelson and Qualicum Beach. In Summerland however, the dollar store war continues.
Am I taking sides? Well I do have a predilection for the underdog in all aspects of life including commerce. Another reason Kathie and I moved back to a small town is our preference for knowing the proprietors of small businesses and supporting them. As the online economy continues to grow and influence almost every aspect of our lives (I only recently learned what the curved arrow underneath the word Amazon means – they seek to provide everything from A to Z) the support of local businesses and their owners is one way of pushing back against big-everything. Sure you pay more, but we are fortunate to be able to live this way. Not all can I realize, so appeals like Zellers’ “The lowest price is the law” are understandable if somewhat myopic. And yes, Zellers is scheduled to return as a lower priceline option of Hudson’s Bay in 2023. Truthfully, price isn’t everything, but in our present inflationary economy, price certainly speaks to many.
Back to the dollar store war in Summerland. Our little town has a historical engagement with low-cost shopping. We remember the final days of the Five to a Dollar store with its twice yearly “Crazy Days.” You couldn’t find a parking spot in your own driveway during those events. In the end their business morphed into a typical hardware store (banning the high school students from the toy area may have had deleterious effects). But now it seems, the clientele for discount products has once again blossomed.
Returned to Summerland for four weeks now I find myself walking down the street watching other shoppers, wondering who supports which dollar store, and why. Both seem to maintain a healthy business. That said, when my wife asked a worker in our “local store” about the stand-off she expressed thanks for asking as she appreciated our support.
Can we expect other similar contests for other consumer loyalty? There is a marvellous local pet food store. Can we expect Doodles and Schnauzers to compare notes and prices any time soon? There is only one Credit Union in town — a unique, single branch entity — and it seems one fewer bank than we remember when we left here seventeen years ago. Competition between realtors, restaurants, legal firms and dentists seems healthy. I have yet to investigate the state of play with local funeral homes. But Dollar Stores? Really? You, the consumer will decide. Ka-Ching.