Making a Buck: How Do Dollar Stores Make Any Money?

Justin Sullivan/iStock via Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/iStock via Getty Images

While the prices of everything from lattes to movie theater tickets have inflated in recent years, dollar stores are somehow still around. It's true that not every item sold by chains like Dollar General and Dollar Tree costs a dollar, but there are enough of them on the shelves to attract customers looking for good deals. That raises the question—if every other retailer seems to be raising prices, how do dollar stores keep making money?

The truth is that the cheap deals dollar stores advertise aren't always as generous as they seem. As How Stuff Works explains, many of the $1 products sold at these chains are actually less of a bargain than the more expensive—and larger—versions sold at grocery stores. A $1 16-oz bottle of milk at the dollar store, for instance, is being sold for more than $.06 an ounce. The average U.S. price for milk in December 2018 was $3.27 per gallon [PDF], or less than $.03 an ounce.

These tricks are even harder to spot with products like aluminum foil, which can be sold in 15-foot rolls for $1 in dollar stores and 75-foot rolls for $4 in big-box chains, but come in similarly sized boxes. By sizing-down products and using $1 price tags to apply the illusion of value to everything in their inventory, dollar stores are able to turn a profit that can be higher than stores like Walmart.

Of course, there are dollar store customers who know that spending a little more money for larger quantities will get them better value in the long run. But this isn't feasible for everyone; when shoppers only have enough money to get them through the week, or even the day, dollar stores are a tempting option.

That brings up another strategy these companies use to stay in business: targeting low-income communities. According to Mashed, Dollar General intentionally sets up shop in neighborhoods where quick access to cheap, shelf-stable food is not just a convenience, but a necessity. Many of these communities are considered "food deserts," or places that are isolated from supermarkets and other stores that sell fresh, nutritious food. In some cases, dollar stores help create food deserts by drawing customers away from local grocery stores and independent businesses until they're the only game in town. Some cities have even begun passing laws to limit the expansion of Dollar General and Dollar Tree to prevent them from becoming the primary food source for low-income families.

Even with tighter regulations, the retail strategy dollar stores have perfected will likely keep them a fixture of strip malls for years to come. Here are some more behind-the-scenes facts to demystify your dollar store experience.

[h/t How Stuff Works]

What Happens During a Jeopardy! Commercial Break?

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek chats with the show's contestants.
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek chats with the show's contestants.
Getty Images Entertainment

Jennifer Quail:

Typical Break One: First, if there are "pickups" (re-recordings where Alex misspoke or coughed or stuttered, or Johnny mispronounced someone’s name or hometown) to record, they do those. A stagehand brings water bottles for the contestants. The production team who wrangles contestants comes over and gives their pep talk, makes any corrections, like if someone is consistently buzzing early; and keeps you quiet if there are pickups. Alex gets the cards with the "fun facts" (there are about three, one highlighted, but which one he goes for is ultimately up to Alex alone) and when the crew is ready, they come back from commercial to Alex’s chat with the contestants.

Typical Break Two: If there are any pickups from the second half of the Jeopardy! round they do those, the water gets distributed, the production team reminds the contestants how Double Jeopardy! works and that there’s still lots of money out there to win, and Alex comes over to take a picture with the two challengers (the champion will have had their picture taken during their first match.) Then we come back to Double Jeopardy!.

Typical Third Break: This is the big one. There are pickups, water, etc. and they activate the section of the screen where you write your wager. One of the team members brings you a half-sheet of paper ... and you work out what you want to bet. One of your "wranglers" checks it, as does another production team member, to make sure it’s legible and when you’re sure that’s what you want, you lock it in. At that point you can’t change it. They take away the scratch paper and the part of the board where you write your answer is unlocked. Someone will tell you to write either WHO or WHAT in the upper left corner, so you do know at least whether it’s a person or thing. They make sure the "backup card" (a piece of card stock sitting on your podium) is turned to the correct who or what side, just in case your touchscreen fails. If everything’s ready, then as soon as the crew says, they come back and Final Jeopardy! starts.

There are breaks you don’t [even know about, too]. If there is a question about someone’s final answer, they will actually stop tape while the research team checks. Sometimes if something goes really off, like Alex completely misreads a category during the start of a round, they’ll stop and pick it up immediately. Those [are breaks] you’ll never notice because they’ll be completely edited out.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Is There a Leap Day?

Bychykhin_Olexandr/iStock via Getty Images
Bychykhin_Olexandr/iStock via Getty Images

At some point in elementary school, your science teacher probably explained to you that there are 365 days in a year because that’s how long it takes for Earth to complete one full rotation around the sun. What they might not have specified, however, is that it’s not exactly 365 days—it’s actually closer to 365.2421 days.

So, if we want our calendar year to begin right when Earth begins a new rotation around the sun, we have to account for (roughly) an extra quarter of a day each year, or one day every four years. History.com reports that the Egyptians had already been doing this for a while before Europe finally caught on in 46 B.C.E., when Roman dictator Julius Caesar and astronomer Sosigenes put their heads together to come up with what we now call the Julian calendar, which includes 12 months, 365 days, and an additional “leap day” every four years on February 29.

But rounding 0.2421 up to 0.25 each year created an issue, because it didn’t quite add up to a full day every four years—and that tiny discrepancy meant that after 128 years, the calendar year ended up starting a day before Earth had completed its rotation around the sun. By the 14th century, the calendar year was starting a whopping 10 days before Earth finished its orbit.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII sought to correct the error by suggesting that we simply skip a leap day every so often. His Gregorian calendar, which we still use today, mandates that we omit the leap day during years evenly divisible by 100 but not by 400. For instance, the year 2000 included a leap day because it’s divisible by 100 and 400; the year 2100, on the other hand, will not include a leap day, since it’s evenly divisible by 100, but not by 400.

Gregory XIII’s correction to Caesar’s overcorrection is itself a bit of an under-correction, so we’ll probably need to reevaluate our leap day protocol again in about 10,000 years.

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