Dollar General, whose corporate office is located in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, has helped shaped twentieth-century retail patterns in Tennessee and the South since its establishment in 1939.
Dollar General began as a liquidating company called J. L. Turner and Son Wholesale in Scottsville, Kentucky. The Turner family opened a retail store named Turner Department Store in Springfield, Kentucky, and in 1955, converted the store to the Dollar General name.
Between 1955 and 1968, Cal Turner established the business plan and philosophy of the company. He placed Dollar General’s focus on low-priced consumable products, which are used constantly and need replenishing, and identified its target customer base as low- and middle-income women, especially those with children. Turner also focused on the rural town market, with stores located in communities of twenty thousand people or less, and targeted areas within larger metropolitan areas. In the early stores, items were merely piled on tables for customers to sort through. The stores now display merchandise in appealing ways and offer some items at higher prices; however, 30 percent of their products still cost less than one dollar.
Cal Turner took the family business to publicly traded stock in 1968. In 1977 Cal Turner Jr. became president of the company, and his father acted as chairman of the board, a role he filled until 1989, when the company headquarters moved from Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1987 the company started the GED/Learn-To-Read Program, and in 1993 the Dollar General Literacy Foundation was established. Also in 1993, Cal Turner Jr. directed the opening of the Sam Levy Community Store in the Sam Levy housing project, an economically disenfranchised and high-crime area of Nashville. The corporation provided training and education to the community through the Dollar General Learning Center before offering the residents of the housing project jobs. However, as Turner commented in the August 13, 1993, issue of the trade magazine Discount Store News, “We’re not training them exclusively for our store. We hope to have a training program which is so excellent that we end up training people for other companies as well.” The success of this program led to its duplication at other sites. In 1997 the Sam Levy store was burned and looted as part of the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of a resident by a police officer. The store was rebuilt the next year. The company’s efforts in community involvement and business have garnered the corporation several industry awards.
Turner moved the company’s headquarters from downtown Nashville to suburban Goodlettsville, Tennessee, in 2000. He stepped down as CEO in 2002 amid allegations of accounting irregularities. He filled the role of chairman until June 2003 and then as an advisor until October 2005, when he retired. During these years of controversy, however, Turner implemented another major change in the company’s strategy. The first Dollar General Market, a larger store that offers perishable food as well as more traditional Dollar General merchandise, was opened in Hendersonville, Tennessee, in June 2003.
In 2007 Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and Company purchased Dollar General for $7.3 billion and again made the company private. The company now operates eight thousand stores with annual sales in excess of $9 billion.
Outside of the corporation, the Turner family has been closely connected with Vanderbilt University and the Nashville Symphony. Cal Turner Sr. attended Vanderbilt University for one year but did not graduate. Cal Turner Jr., however, graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1962 and has been involved with the university in a variety of ways since. He endowed the Vanderbilt Divinity School with $4 million in 1994 to create the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, named after his father. In 2007 he donated an additional $2.9 million to the Vanderbilt Divinity School to support fellowships in the program. Cal Turner Jr., brother Steve Turner, and sister Laura Turner donated $15 million to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a new musical hall for the Nashville Symphony. They donated these funds in memory of their mother, who died in 1988 and had a deep appreciation for music; the concert hall within the Symphony Center is named the Laura Turner Concert Hall in her honor.
Bill Carey, Fortunes, Fiddles and Fried Chicken (2000); J. Howard Olds and Cal Turner Jr., Led to Follow: Leadership Lessons from an Improbable Pastor and a Reluctant CEO (2008)