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Let’s see: There are more than 30,000 dollar store formats in the country right now. Some 800 HomeGoods locations. Another 800 Bed Bath & Beyonds. And close to 150,000 convenience stores in America. But Popshelf? They have barely 75 locations across the country.

Fresh and Direct

Taking the best bits and pieces of dollar stores, HomeGoods, BBB and convenience stores and melding them into a hybrid format unseen in the retailing world previously, Popshelf is perhaps the freshest retail concept in America today. There is literally not another retailing concept like it in the country today…and in an over-stored environment that’s saying a lot.

That’s a lot to live up to but Popshelf is more than up to the task. Debuting in October 2020 by parent company Dollar General – you know, the guys with more than 16,000 locations seemingly in every rural and suburban nook and cranny in the country – Popshelf was designed to broaden the company’s reach beyond its down and dirty consumables-heavy format. As such it may have been an answer to arch-rival competitor Dollar Tree’s non-consumables format or in response to the steady growth of up-and-comer Five Below. But Popshelf – they spell it out as “pOpshelf” – is much more.

Customers can enjoy Popshelf’s stress-free and guilt-free shopping experience as they find the items they want while being delighted by unique special products that deliver joy and happiness! Joy, stress-free, guilt-free, delight, happiness: Popshelf just might be on to something that’s been missing in retail for a long, long time.

“This new store aims to engage customers with a fun, affordable and stress-free shopping experience where they can find on-trend seasonal and home décor, health and beauty must-haves, home cleaning supplies, party goods, entertaining needs and much more—with approximately 95 percent of items priced at $5 or less!” is how the company put it as the first two locations opened near corporate headquarters in Goodlettsville, TN.

Read that again: “fun, affordable and stress-free.” When was the last time you heard any retailer describe their store that way? When you put all of those elements together – ease of shopping, clever merchandising and displays, impulse-driven pricing and a stress-free environment that practically begs you to buy something – it adds up to a format refreshingly new in American retailing. A walk-through a typical store shows how they do it.

A Little Bit of HomeGoods and BBB

No retailer in America has done a better job capturing the essence of home décor accessories than HomeGoods, the TJX division. But Popshelf comes as close as anybody. It uses cross-merchandised vignettes – a recent visit showed an outdoor lifestyle display strategically positioned front and center as you entered the 9,000-square-foot store – to show themed decorative accessories from both hard and soft home categories. They even mixed in a consumable or too, in this case some summer-flavored soda pop. (This is the South, you know.)

The décor accessories – framed art, beach umbrellas, outdoor tableware, American flags – are then displayed nearby on chest-level shelving with stepped “Gap-style” tables highlighting individual items. End caps have lively signage – “We all need a little pop” — or peg boards holding kitchen towels, place mats and other soft kitchen textiles. Prices rarely get above $5.

There are also limited soft home offerings competing with merchandise one might shop for at Bed Bath & Beyond, including towels, throws, decorative pillows, and all those kitchen textile offerings. Again, everything is private label, using some of the house brands from Dollar General. A big, bright “home” sign hangs over the department in Popshelf’s signature purple, a color repeated on everything from hang tags and shopping carts to shelf facings and staff aprons. It’s a consistent in-store branding that so many retailing chains seem to lose in translation.

Dollar Derivatives

While Popshelf has a very different feel than your typical dollar store, it traces its roots back to that tried-and-true format. Prices are of course the main tip-off and like Five Below, that is the ceiling on most products. Some selected items in the store I visited carried Dollar General labels indicating there is cross-buying going on but most merchandise appears to be developed specifically for Popshelf. Virtually all the home products are private label.

Shoppers will also find toys –there are national brands like Marvel and Disney – as well as artificial flowers (permanent botanicals is how the industry spins this one), stationery and writing instruments and a smattering of cookware and other kitchenware gadgets and cooking tools.

And while scattered throughout the store are the kind of odd-ball, one-off items that define dollar store shopping, for the most part the store is merchandised by classification and clearly signed. In opening the brand, Dollar General indicated seasonal and “limited-time” opportunity goods would make up key parts of the store’s assortment.

Convenience Shopping

While Popshelf’s consumables offerings – snacks, drinks, cleaning, and health-and-beauty products – also owe their heritage to dollar store formats, they really fit more into what a typical convenience store might sell. Located around the perimeter of this store in Tucker, GA – an Atlanta suburb – they are both a destination and an impulse area where you pick out a few more purchases once you’ve selected the bigger ticket décor items at the front of the store. Self-checkout makes the process even easier.

By placing the stores in suburban locations with plenty of parking, the company is clearly targeting the female shopper, it said. “Initially, targeted customers are primarily female and are located in diverse suburban communities with a total household annual income ranging from $50,000 to $125,000,” Dollar General said at the debut of the first stores.

Joy to the Store

Even if you don’t break out into a big smile walking around Popshelf, the vibe is definitely positive and upbeat. That’s not an accident. “Customers will find a differentiated retail concept that seeks to bring joy to their shopping experiences, with surprising deals in targeted non-consumable product categories,” is how Dollar General put it. And in doing so, it seems to have anticipated what the return to physical shopping would represent for pandemic-stressed shoppers. There’s nothing in Popshelf you really, truly need…much less that you can’t buy online or elsewhere. But that’s not the point.

“Customers can enjoy Popshelf’s stress-free and guilt-free shopping experience as they find the items they want while being delighted by unique special products that deliver joy and happiness!” the company said at its opening. Joy, stress-free, guilt-free, delight, happiness: Popshelf just might be on to something that’s been missing in retail for a long, long time.