‘Tis better to give than to deceive

This being the holiday season and all, Frank Rolfe is dressing up his miserly predations on the impoverished classes by claiming that higher prices are actually beneficial to them. That’s right: Frank Rolfe, who extolled “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap as the epitome of effective corporate leadership and who regularly notes that residents of trailer parks are fish in a barrel, is taking a leaf from George Orwell’s 1984 to convince us that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and black is white.

Writing on his Mobile Home University blog—cousin to his equally problematic RV Park University blog—Rolfe has presented a Yuletide parable under the headline, “The interesting story of why Dollar Tree raised their prices from $1 to $1.25.” The uninitiated might think the increase was forced by higher wholesale costs, or because Dollar Tree needed bigger margins to fuel its relentless expansion across the American landscape. But no. As Rolfe breathlessly (and without a shred of attribution or supporting evidence) assures us, “Dollar Tree raised prices to actually HELP their customers.”

This selfless act of charity, Rolfe goes on to explain, was prompted by Dollar Tree’s realization that it was “limited in what it can offer in its stores because of the $1 price point.” By raising its one-price-fits-all approach to $1.25 per item, “they found they could offer a substantially larger range of items to meet customers’ needs.” The moral of the story? “It’s not a case of the ‘evil business owner raising prices on the downtrodden’ but instead ‘progressive business owner expanding their product range at the request of customers.'”

Where to begin to address this logic-deficient defense of greed? The absurdity of claiming that Dollar Tree raised its prices to be helpful to “the downtrodden”? The equally absurd and unsubstantiated claim that Dollar Tree’s customers were seeking a broader product range, even if that meant higher prices overall? Why stop at $1.25? Why not $2? $5? Think how many more products Dollar Tree could offer if it became just like Kroger or Food Lion!

But why would Frank Rolfe care about Dollar Tree in the first place? Because he clearly recognizes that it pitches to the same demographic as do his own trailer courts and RV parks. And as he further asserts, what’s going on at Dollar Tree “is very similar to the mobile home park business, in which lot rents go up to allow for reinvestment in the worn-out property to bring it back to life, as well as to provide competent, professional management. It’s a win/win concept, not a win/lose concept.”

As if.

As one news story after another has documented, Rolfe and his kind have been steadily jacking up rates at their mobile home and RV parks because they can, not out of any sense of “customer service.” Such parks are the bottom end of a housing market that has been squeezed without mercy for several years, and especially since the onset of the pandemic, resulting in an unending supply of would-be tenants who will take whatever they can get at whatever price it takes. As Rolfe himself acknowledges, lot rents around Denver that were around $400 a few years ago have more than doubled, yet not only are mobile home parks full, but most have waiting lists.

As for having that extra income go to “reinvestment” in “worn-out” property, or to hire “competent, professional management”? The headlines are replete with stories of trailer parks literally falling apart from neglect, their residents coping with intermittent utilities and streets flooded because of improper drainage maintenance, while management—professional or otherwise—is either absent or nonresponsive.

Dollar Tree may or may not have perfectly valid reasons for upping its prices, but no one can reasonably conclude that it is preying on its customers. The same can’t be said of Rolfe, whose quick dismissal of “the evil business owner raising prices on the downtrodden” trope suggests what’s really bugging him: Frank Rolfe, meet Ebenezer Scrooge.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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