Dollar Tree: A Brand Is What You Make It, Not What You Call It

Brands are dynamic. Great brand leadership evolves brands in order for brands to stay relevant and differentiated in the customer’s mind. Just because a brand evolves to deliver its promise in a more relevant, differentiated manner does not mean the brand must change its name. 

Pizza Hut sells more than pizza. UPS (United Parcel Service) offers more than package delivery. Shake Shack sells more than milk shakes. IBM (International Business Machines) sells more than business machines. Dairy Queen’s menu features more than frozen treats. You can buy burgers, fries, chicken and more. While at Burger King, you can purchase chicken, sides, coffee and sweets. The 7-Eleven near me is open 24/7 rather than 7 AM to 11 PM. None of these brands need to change their names.

At one point in the early 2000’s, KFC management wanted to change the brand’s name to KGC for Kentucky Grilled Chicken, its new non-fried offering. Management desired a new image for KFC that did not rely on “fried”, which they considered to be a dietary negative. Consumers and franchisees did not react positively to changing the beloved brand’s name. People just loved fried chicken more than grilled. Thankfully, the name change did not happen.

Your brand name is not your brand’s destiny. Your brand is what you make it. 

Of course, there are always those who believe the name must match the offerings. For example, some analysts and pundits believe that Dollar Tree, a chain of discount stores where items cost $1, has “shot their brand” and “diluted the brand” by changing the brand’s fixed-$1-pricing. Dollar Tree raised its price from $1 to $1.25 because inflation, supply issues, the pandemic, difficulties integrating Family Dollar stores and other acquisitions have challenged Dollar Tree’s ability to meet its 35% margins at a $1 price-point. 

These observers think the Dollar Tree brand is only about the price point. They think that the name Dollar Tree means the brand must continue to sell at the $1 price point. This is a mistaken marketing mandate. 

The Dollar Tree brand promise is much more than “everything for $1”. Dollar Tree believes in its promise. Dollar Tree believes that even with the $1.25 price the brand will continue to deliver extremely affordable, extraordinarily convenient shopping in a quality manner.

Here is how Dollar Tree describes itself:

Dollar Tree’s mission is to be:

“… a customer-oriented, value-driven variety store. We will operate profitably, empower our associates to share in its opportunities, rewards and successes; and deal with others in an honest and considerate way. The company’s mission will be consistent with measured and profitable growth.”

Dollar Tree’s core values reflect and respect the values of its employees and its customers. 

  • “Whether we are serving customers or working with fellow associates, we are courteous, act responsibly, and carry ourselves with integrity.”
  • “What is best for our customers and what is best for our company and associates are guiding principles in every business decision we make.”
  • “From customer to coworker, Dollar Tree associates treat everyone with whom we interact with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

Dollar Tree is still Dollar Tree even if its dollar is now $1.25. Dollar Tree’s intent is to provide shoppers with an experience of awesome affordability wrapped up in respectful customer-focused service and convenience. Focusing on its total brand experience is the smart move for Dollar Tree. Focusing on its total brand experience will provide the brand leeway if prices need to change again.

Identifying your brand with a fixed-price position may work for a while. And, clearly can be very profitable and successful, for a while. But, the world changes. Think about Woolworth’s, America’s five and dime. Woolworth’s was founded in 1859 and lasted with five-and-ten-cents-offerings-only until 1932 when a 20 cents line was introduced. By 1935, Woolworth’s had abandoned the fixed-price approach completely. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Woolworth lost focus on its core offer of abundant affordability. Woolworth’s could not figure out how to deliver its promise without the 5 cents and 10 cents framework. The five and dime idea vanished into the dust bins of branding. Walmart, Costco and Target claimed the discount store mantles.

Price is a feature of a brand. As a feature of a brand, price supports the brand’s promised experience. A brand promise needs to focus on brand benefits rather than focusing solely on a feature.

Dollar Tree does not need to change its name regardless of the booing from the business press sidelines.  This is because of Dollar Tree’s provenance. 

Dollar Tree’s mission and accompanying values do not need a fixed-price promise to be successful. Those who believe that Dollar Tree has maimed or destroyed its brand have not done their homework. Dollar Tree has not maligned its brand by ending its $1 fixed-price approach. Dollar Tree can still excel in its chosen market of customer-oriented, value-driven variety store. Dollar Tree will still provide extremely affordable, extraordinarily convenient shopping in a quality manner.

Customers will be the final arbiters, of course. But, if Dollar Tree delivers the experience that its mission and values describe, the brand will be just fine.

A brand is what you make it. 

When you believe that the brand name makes the brand you are committing marketing malpractice. If Dollar Tree sticks with delivering its brand promise consistently, it will still deliver the convenient affordability that its customers prefer.