Meet the 12 execs revolutionizing Dollar General, the Walmart of dollar stores, as it expands into fresh grocery and taps into a more affluent customer base

  • With over 16,000 stores, Dollar General is one of the largest retail chains in the United States.
  • The dollar store chain’s influence stretches far beyond its low-cost market segment.
  • Insider spoke with four executives, including CEO Todd Vasos, about major strategic initiatives. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

With a massive store footprint and a focus on discount offerings, Dollar General is one of the largest and most influential retailers in the industry.

The company boasts a small-box store fleet of 16,368 across 45 states — as of the end of 2020 — and is known for offering low prices on a broad range of products, including cleaning supplies, consumables, and apparel, with offerings typically retailing for less than $10.

The dollar store chain is by no means a new player to the retail landscape, having been founded in 1939 as J.L. Turner and Son before rebranding as Dollar General in 1955. In 2019, Dollar General marked three consecutive decades of annual positive same-store sales growth.

In recent months, the company has doubled down on embracing the selling of perishable products with its DG Fresh initiative, launching a new, more affluent store concept called Popshelf, and continuing to expand into underserved communities — especially in rural areas — that lack convenient and affordable retailers to purchase goods from.

The brand’s ascension beyond direct rivals like Dollar Tree with new offerings and a growing store footprint has prompted some throughout the industry to compare Dollar General’s keen focus on low prices and unyielding expansion to the rise of its big-box competitor, Walmart.

Foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai even found that Dollar General’s “cross-shopping” visits from Walmart customers spiked in 2020 by 24.2% between May and July. That’s compared to the 19.4% of Walmart shoppers that also swung by a Dollar General store over the same period in 2019.

Insider connected with Dollar General to learn more about the executives working on the brand’s biggest initiatives. Four Dollar General executives, including CEO Todd Vasos, spoke with Insider about the future of the dollar store chain. Several others featured also initially joined the company as store workers or managers, over a decade ago.

When 2021 comes to a close, these executives will account for a combined total of 176 years of experience at Dollar General.

Here’s a look at the top power players at the dollar-store powerhouse:

Todd Vasos, chief executive officer

Todd Vasos currently leads Dollar General as the company’s chief executive officer, a position he’s held since 2015. Vasos joined the company in 2008 as executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. He later served as the company’s chief operating officer in 2013.

Prior to joining Dollar General, Vasos held executive positions at the Eckerd Drug Corporation — which was acquired by Rite Aid in 2007 — and Phar-Mor Food, and Drug Inc. He also served as the chief merchandising officer at Longs Drugs.

Speaking to Insider, Vasos said that Dollar General has strategically positioned itself to serve many underserved rural communities. He said that 75% of his company’s stores are located in rural areas.

“We do know that the grocers have moved out years and years ago in these areas,” he said. “We started to look years ago into expanding into small towns, and we knew there was that niche to fill. We actually went in with a few new, different prototypes to be able to deliver those kind of consumable needs that the consumer in these areas were having to drive upwards of 20 miles to be able to get fresh products.”

The CEO said he remains “bullish” on Dollar General’s “robust pipeline for growth” and “strong sales and profitability initiatives ahead.” 

“The real important thing here is we’ve got a very creative and strategic management team that is always looking, not only down the road, but around the corner,” he said. “That’s important in retail today. It’s not just about what you see ahead, but you’re anticipating what is ahead for the consumer and meeting her where she’s going to be a few years from now.”

Jeff Owen, chief operating officer

Jeff Owen has served as Dollar General’s chief operating officer since August 2019, but he got his start at the company running a store himself in 1993. Since then, he’s been promoted to director of store systems, senior director of store operations, and senior vice president of store operations, before rising to the ranks to become executive vice president of store operations in 2015. 

As COO, Owen runs divisions like store operations, merchandising, and supply chain. Speaking with Insider, he said that in the decades that he’s worked at Dollar General, the retailer has significantly sharpened its “strategic planning process.” 

He singled out one particular project as an example of this. Dollar General’s Fast Track initiative has introduced brick-and-mortar self-checkout options. But it also promotes buy online, pickup in store capabilities.

“Our foundation is incredibly strong and our ability to get to know our customer even better, and our ability to expand our offering through format innovation has allowed us to enter into communities that before we weren’t able to enter into,” Owen told Insider in an interview. 

Owen added that ultimately, the price-conscious consumer-base of Dollar General will continue to dictate the chain’s next moves.

“What we have really stayed true to is keeping the customer at the center of everything we do,” he said. “And as we continue to grow and look ahead, it will always be through the eyes of the customer.”

Emily Taylor, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer

As chief merchandising officer, Emily Taylor has helped to spearhead efforts around Dollar General’s marketing, global sourcing, merchandise operations, channel innovation, and in-store experience initiatives. 

Taylor first joined Dollar General in 1998, working in everything from merchandise planning to investor relations over her career. She has developed a focus on revitalizing the company’s non-consumable business. She introduced a non-consumable initiative to bolster sales in that category as a senior vice president in 2014. That push “seeks to expand gross margin opportunities in key categories” within Dollar General, according to a company statement.

In the company’s most recent quarter, it announced its 10th consecutive quarter of comparative growth in its non-consumables business. 

Taylor became senior vice president of channel innovation in 2019, during which time she began developing a Popshelf spinoff concept. Popshelf is targeted toward younger, higher-earning customers looking for categories like gifts, home decor, and party supplies. Taylor told Insider that the store is all about “delivering value in these categories in a fun and different way.”

“We’re focused on a different customer base there and in different market areas, but it is about bringing really exciting value and fun product in a way that the customer hasn’t experienced before,” she said. 

According to Taylor, Popshelf consumers will be motivated by “non-consumable driven missions,” such as needing party supplies or purchasing a gift. Dollar General’s mission will remain around filling consumable needs, like purchasing snacks or household goods.

“They’re complimentary, but both are very important and different,” she said. “When we look at our stores, we do fill a unique niche in the lives of our customers and in the communities we serve.”

Rod West, vice president of perishables growth and development

As vice president of perishables growth and development, Rod West is one of the key executives behind Dollar General’s push to embrace fresh produce.

He began at Dollar General in 2005 as the vice president of process improvement, having previously worked at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. West now works with the company’s merchandising, marketing, supply chain, and strategy teams to broaden the “fresh perishables product offering” and expand DG Fresh to more stores.

“One of the most recent projects that I would say that I’m very proud of — for both my role in it and for what we were able to accomplish — and that’s the leadership and the oversight of our DG Fresh initiative really from kind of concept to reality,” he told Insider in an interview.

West also oversaw the “strategic conversion” of supplying perishables to stores “from third-party to self-distribution” for Dollar General. As a result, 10 new DG Fresh distribution centers — totaling 2.3 million square feet — have cropped up in the past two years. West also touted sales increases for perishables, and a reduction in cost in a business infamous for its thin margins.

West told Insider that DG Fresh will help to “pave the way” for Dollar General’s future.

“Our ability to take this very complex and intricate network and stand it up in this period of time and make it happen — that speaks to our capabilities as an organization,” West said. “And our ability to remain a low cost leader and service our business.”

Rhonda Taylor, executive vice president and general counsel

Rhonda Taylor first joined Dollar General in 2000 as an employment attorney. Since 2015, she has served as the foremost legal representative of the company, as general counsel and executive vice president.

Departments and initiatives like legal, risk management, public relations, government affairs, global compliance, community initiatives, and internal audits all fall under her domain.

In the years since Taylor joined the company, Dollar General has expanded its store footprint from 4,294 stores to around 16,368. As general counsel, Taylor is tasked with ensuring that Dollar General has the legal framework to expand at such a rate.

Taylor previously held roles like deputy general counsel, and became a senior vice president in 2013. 

Kathy Reardon, executive vice president and chief people officer

Kathy Reardon leads Dollar General’s entire human resources division as the company’s chief people officer. She was promoted to executive vice president in August 2020. Reardon’s role involves overseeing HR for all Dollar General employees who work across the company’s 16,000-plus stores, 25 distribution centers, and in its corporate offices.

Reardon first came to work for Dollar General in 2009 as a director of human resources. Previously, Reardon worked at construction company Centex and the University of Virginia. She became chief people officer in 2019.

In early 2009, Dollar General employed around 72,500 full-time and part-time workers.  As of February 28, 2020, the company has a workforce of around 143,000, including corporate workers.

Donny Lau, vice president of investor relations and corporate strategy

Donny Lau came onboard at Dollar General in 2017 as the new vice president of strategy and corporate development before being named vice president of investor relations and corporate strategy two years later. His areas of focus include “developing and evolving Dollar General’s strategic vision and initiatives, implementing strategic partnerships and identifying long-term growth opportunities,” according to a company statement. 

Prior to joining Dollar General, Lau was an executive at Yum! Brands. In a statement to Insider, Lau said he was especially proud of having the opportunity to lead the investor relations department during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this challenging time and for the full year 2020, the Company’s share price increased 35% — as compared to a 16% increase for the S&P 500,” he said.

Connie Droge, senior vice president of store operations

Former Target vice president Connie Droge left the big-box retailer to work for Dollar General in 2016 as the company’s divisional vice president for regions in the western and north central United States.

Her focus has since expanded after becoming a senior vice president of store operations in August 2019, a role where Droge now oversees the operation of over 8,000 Dollar General locations across the southern half of the country. A company statement touted Droge as focusing on company culture and driving results. 

Droge also told Insider in a statement that helping to work out a strategy for Dollar General to commit $5 million to support racial justice and education is one of her prouder moments at the brand.

“I am proud to serve on an internal team focusing on how we invest in our diverse teams and communities,” she said. “Stemming from our work, three initial grant recipients were announced in December 2020 — the Equal Justice Initiative, Operation Hope and INROADS.”

Kal Patel, senior vice president of store operations

Kal Patel joined Dollar General in 2018, after spending a decade at Walmart and 15 years at Academy Sports. 

As a senior vice president of store operations, Patel oversees 8,000 Dollar General stores across the northern half of the United States. His responsibilities include building and developing teams designed to deliver “impressive operating results,” according to a company statement.”

“I am especially proud to have led and overseen efforts to implement a new Model Store Guide that DG’s field leaders utilize to ensure we are achieving model store brand guidelines,” he told Insider in a statement.

Ivan Reeves, vice president of human resources

Vice President of Human Resources Ivan Reeves has been with Dollar General for two decades. Today, he is tasked with leading all human resource initiatives for the company’s supply chain and private trucking fleet functions.

To highlight the importance of this role, Dollar General touted its supply chain capabilities as a crucial element behind the success of its DG Fresh program in a March 2020 SEC filing. 

Reeves first joined Dollar General in 2001 as alternative dispute resolution representative, earning promotions in employee relations and alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

He has additionally served as director of field human resources and senior director of corporate human resources during his tenure at the company. 

Tracey Herrmann, senior vice president of channel innovation

Herrmann’s professional experience at Dollar General spans across merchandising, supply chain, and store operations since joining in 2013. In 2017, she took over as senior vice president of store operations, in order to run Dollar Generals located in the northern half of the US, a role now held by Kal Patel.

She was promoted to her current role in September 2020. Herrmann is responsible for helping lead both Dollar General’s Popshelf concept and the store’s non-consumable initiative to “expand gross margin opportunities in key categories,” according to a company statement. 

Herrmann has also launched a partnership between Dollar General and the Network for Executive Women, with the dollar store chain sponsoring the Nashville chapter of the major women’s leadership organization.

“I’m energized by the future of our company and the many women who are helping lead the way,” she said in a statement to Insider. 

Donna Hernandez, regional director for southeast Louisiana

In 1998, Donna Hernandez started out at Dollar General as a lead sales associate. Since then, she’s climbed the ranks to manage her own store and later, district. Now she serves the company as the regional director for all of southeast Louisiana, a role she’s held since 2017. 

As one of the states with the most Dollar General locations — 574 in total — Louisiana is a key region to the company’s operations.

As regional director, Hernandez works closely with district managers to oversee 200 stores, working closely with employees in the company’s store, real estate, merchandising, buyer, and vendor teams. For example, she recently reviewed the region’s remodel process to “identify where we can improve execution and efficiency at our stores.”

“As we remodel hundreds of stores annually, it is critical that the process be smooth and efficient to control costs and reopen stores as quickly as possible,” she told Insider in a statement.

Hernandez said she’s “proud” to “make an impact at a Fortune 200 company.” 

 

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