What it's really like to work at a dollar store

The dollar store: the only place you can buy seasonal decor, a pregnancy test, and a $1 steak all under one roof. They're simultaneously glorious and horrifying, appealing enough to make even the most avowed minimalist wonder if they should, in fact, spend $20 on stuff they don't actually need yet still somehow kind of want. Whether you've stopped by just to wander around or discovered it was the ideal place to buy groceries during tough times, you've got to hand it to the dollar store for giving us the stuff we want at a drastically reduced price.

But have you ever wondered how all that stuff gets onto store shelves (or into store aisles peeking out of boxes you have to dig through yourself)? There's a lot you probably don't know about the people who help fulfill all of your budget-store haul needs. Do they learn a lot on the job? Perhaps. But it can also be a rough industry to work in — especially if you hope to be paid a fair and appropriate wage.

Let's take a closer look to find out what it's really like to work at a dollar store. The truth may just surprise you.

Dollar store employees can be totally overworked

You know when you have so much to do at work that it just hurts your brain to think about it? We've probably all had that experience from time to time, and it's not a good one. It's bad enough when it happens a few times a month, but just imagine what it would be like if that were your reality. Every. Single. Day. That's what a lot of dollar store employees face when they clock into work on a daily basis.

That's because it's not uncommon for dollar store employees to be completely overworked and work super-long hours. Often, dollar stores don't want to hire a lot of employees because they want to keep their costs low. Because of this, there often aren't enough people on the floor to stock shelves and take care of customers. That leaves the people who are there to pick up way more slack than they probably want to.

It doesn't matter how well you do your job — if you don't have enough help, it's going to be difficult to run a store well without feeling like you constantly have to be on the go, and that's not a good feeling for any employee to have to deal with on a regular basis.

Dollar store employees don't make much more than minimum wage

Okay, so a job at a dollar store can be stressful. But so what? People go to stressful jobs every day, and they're able to deal with the stress because they receive a good paycheck. You might expect dollar store employees to get a good wage considering how hard they work, but that's definitely not the case. In fact, according to Indeed, most dollar store associates aren't making significantly more than minimum wage.

Many employees complained about the low wages, citing wage numbers like just $9 an hour. That kind of wage is hard to live off of just about anywhere in the country, but it's definitely not going to cut it in big or even medium-sized cities.

A store manager can make a higher salary than their associates, but they are often tasked with more work than their employees as well. At an average of just $17.23 per hour, it's still not a lot of dough to rely on. If you can work your way to district manager, you'll make just under $70,000 a year, but you shouldn't have to make it that far up the ladder just to make ends meet.

Dollar store managers can expect to pick up a lot of the slack

What happens when store associates aren't paid enough and there aren't enough employees to do all the work that has to be done? Apparently, at many dollar stores, managers have to pick up the slack. Though they get the title and some extra cash in every paycheck, some dollar store managers have realized that they're really managers in name only.

For example, take Dawn Hughey, whose story was featured in a HuffPost article. She became a manager at the Dollar General she worked at after having been there for just four months. While she had high hopes for the new position, she soon realized that it wasn't what she had bargained for. Instead of working a typical 40-hour workweek, Hughey was expected to keep payroll down as much as possible, which often meant 12-hour days, six days a week. Not exactly what you might hope for when you take on a leadership position at a dollar store.

Managers aren't just shuffling paper around, either. Hughey said she felt more like a manual laborer than a manager. That's not exactly a positive selling point for prospective employees considering working for this company.

There's a high turnover rate at dollar stores

It probably won't surprise you to find out that there's a very high turnover rate at dollar stores. Employees tend not to stay there for a long time before they cut their losses and look for a better job. Aljazeera calls the problem of high turnover in dollar stores one of the "problems endemic to that subsistence marketplace" and paints the issue as one interconnected with many other problems in the industry as a whole.

According to this article, management often responds to crises within the dollar store marketplace by slashing funding to stores even more, which means people get paid less and therefore leave faster. Instead, it argues for increasing wages to create a higher quality of employment so employees will want to stay in their positions longer.

After all, if you're getting paid poorly to do work that can be difficult, busy, and not particularly rewarding, why wouldn't you leave at the first chance you get? It just makes sense.

Some dollar store employees have a hard time getting a raise

If you're really interested in what it's like working at a dollar store, all you have to do is take a quick trip on your browser over to YouTube to find a slew of videos in which former and current employees air their grievances (and talk about what they enjoy) about their jobs at dollar stores. One YouTuber to document her experience working at Dollar Tree is Angelica G.

First of all, she said it was difficult to get promoted because there just aren't that many positions available. If you're not working as a cashier at the front of the store, you can work as a stocker or in management — and apparently, that's about it. So, unless you're looking to go into management, it may not be the best spot to put yourself in if you're trying to move up the corporate ladder.

But what about making more money in the position you're in? According to Angelica, that's a lost cause. She said, "Just know that there's no hope, absolutely zero hope, of you getting a raise." Well, that might not be totally true, as she follows it up by saying she actually did get a raise after six months with the company. How much, though? Ten cents. That doesn't exactly seem like that's going to make much of a dent in one's monthly bills.

You can gain some useful experience working at a dollar store

While working at many dollar stores doesn't exactly sound like a breeze, it's not a total waste of time if you're looking to gain some valuable skills that you'll be able to use throughout your career, according to some Dollar General employees that posted on Indeed. Most of these skills are pretty straightforward, like learning how to use a cash register or stock a store shelf. As you can imagine, there are a ton of similar jobs that would require these skills.

But it's not just these concrete skills that some dollar store employees gain. It's also possible to gain people and customer service skills. Working with customers can be difficult, as YouTuber and Dollar Tree employee Angelica G. can attest to. But learning how to handle people, in a retail environment or otherwise, is probably one of the most important skills you can pick up at just about any job.

Dollar store employees deal with a lot of messes at work

Remember when we mentioned that dollar store employees often have to work on skeleton staffs? There just aren't that many workers at any one dollar store location at any given time, which means there's a lot more work to do than there are people do to it. This is why you may experience long lines or disgruntled staff the next time you visit a Dollar Tree.

But another unexpected consequence of these skeleton staffs is the mess. Business Insider visited a Dollar Tree to learn more about the store and why it has such strong appeal to consumers (the dollar store industry is booming, after all). What they found were boxes heaping full of merchandise just left behind in the aisles, stuff strewn across the store, and a veritable mess at every turn.

Instead of this mess turning shoppers away, however, Business Insider wonders if the mess has something to do with the chain's success. It could, perhaps, lend itself to a treasure hunt-like experience that keeps customers coming back. After all, isn't finding something amazing at the dollar store somehow more satisfying than ordering exactly what you need from Amazon?

Working at a dollar store can be technically easy... but mentally draining

Technically, a lot of the work that dollar store employees do isn't that difficult. When asked, many employees at Dollar General said it was easy work, especially when it came to working the cash register and stocking store shelves. How difficult can that kind of task be, after all?

But just because the job is easy at first glance doesn't mean that it's easy to be there every day. As previously mentioned, stores are often very understaffed, meaning that employees must do way more than may be reasonable in a short amount of time. Even easy tasks, when rushed and piled on top of each other, can become overwhelming.

Perhaps the most difficult part of working at the dollar store for some employees comes down to working with the public. One respondent on Quora said dealing with people at the stores could be "mentally draining." Angelica G. seemed to agree, as she mentioned that customers could become very impatient when there weren't enough people working the cash registers... and to anyone who's ever worked retail, that issue doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Dollar store employees are always stocking new items

The last time you set foot in a dollar store, you might've been there for the cheap food, the surprisingly decent cleaning products, or even a cheap pregnancy test (yes, they are reliable). But there's a better chance that you were there for some of the seasonal products. Did you know that a whopping 49 percent of the business at Dollar Tree actually comes from seasonal products (via Business Insider)?

Customers don't want to see the same old products over and over again, which is why there's always new seasonal stuff coming in at dollar stores. But for employees, that means a lot of restocking. That may not sound like a big deal, but remember, if you don't have many hands to help you out, it can be a lot of work to stock a whole store, especially if you have to do it regularly. Perhaps this is why Business Insider found its local Dollar Tree to be so crowded and messy with boxes of overflowing seasonal stuff.

Dollar store employees have to watch training videos

Working at a small, independent store is often much different than working at a big corporate one. When you work at a big company, it often has some very particular ways of doing things. You'll certainly see that at Dollar General, which requires its incoming staff members to watch a slew of training videos called CBLs, which stands for "computer-based learning." These long videos can be annoying to watch, apparently, but they do provide new employees with essential information they'll need when they're on the job.

One Quora user cautioned those going into the business to pay close attention to the training videos, as they had injured their shoulder in an unnecessary accident. Working at a dollar store can be a physically demanding and tiring job with a lot of exposure to the public, so it's important that all employees receive the information they need to work there as safely as possible — especially in light of new coronavirus-related concerns at retailers across the country.