The battle of the dollar stores has taken a new turn, with Dollar General throwing down the gauntlet in its attempt to buy Family Dollar. Dollar General has launched a hostile takeover bid for its dollar store rival, attempting to thwart Family Dollar’s planned merger with Dollar Tree.
The $9.1 billion offer could end up making a lot of people involved very rich. But what’s good for shareholders is not always good for shoppers – and this could be a case in point.
Family Dollar twice spurned Dollar General’s advances, arguing that a combination of the two would never fly. There’s too much overlap, too much similarity, and the Federal Trade Commission would not look kindly upon the deal, Family Dollar claimed. Dollar General initially offered to close up to 700 stores to appease regulators’ anti-competitive concerns, then upped that offer to 1,500.
But Family Dollar stuck with its planned Dollar Tree deal, even though Dollar General’s latest offer is worth hundreds of millions more than the $8.5 billion Dollar Tree is offering. There’s not as much overlap with Dollar Tree, Family Dollar says, and they have different business models – everything is a dollar at Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar has a more extensive selection of products at various price points. So the two chains could continue to operate as is, while they just so happen to be owned by the same company.
But a key sticking point in a potential Dollar General-Family Dollar deal? Zone pricing.
Family Dollar has admitted that its prices are lower in places where there are Dollar General stores nearby. More than 1,500 – or about 20% – of Family Dollar’s stores “are in zones where pricing is based solely on the presence of local Dollar General stores,” Family Dollar said last week, “and thousands more are in zones where pricing is based on both Dollar General and Wal-Mart stores nearby.” Therefore, there is a “serious risk that the FTC will take the position that Family Dollar’s pricing policies would immediately lead to higher prices in thousands of locations if Dollar General were no longer an independent competitor.”
Dollar General has not shown any particular concern about how a takeover would affect Family Dollar’s prices. It’s likely that Family Dollar would cease to exist anyway, since Dollar General has hinted that it would turn them all into Dollar General stores.
At any rate, today’s hostile takeover bid is essentially Dollar General going over the Family Dollar CEO’s head, appealing directly to Family Dollar shareholders instead. They could overrule the CEO, accept the offer, and kill the Dollar Tree deal – leaving Dollar Tree to fend for itself against a supersized dollar store competitor.
“Our offer provides Family Dollar shareholders with significantly greater value than the existing agreement with Dollar Tree,” Dollar General CEO Rick Dreiling said in a statement today. The unanswered question is whether that “greater value” will end up extending to Family Dollar shoppers.
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