I stumbled across a CNN Money article about Trader Joe’s which provides insight into the business at the consumer and executive levels. Since we’re broadening our campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to Central Illinois, it seems appropriate to share some of the highlights from this intriguing read.
For those unfamiliar with the store, the initial description of Trader Joe’s provides an explanation of why many are enamored with this particular grocer:
… Trader Joe’s is no ordinary grocery chain. It’s an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries — Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews — that you simply can’t find anyplace else.
As we’ve seen in Champaign-Urbana, the fairly recent mainstream grocery shift to natural, gourmet foods is the reason that increasing numbers of people want Trader Joe’s to come to our area. Cost to cost, Trader Joe’s provides value for the consumer on products we feel good about eating. The CNN report states,
The rise of Trader Joe’s reflects Americans’ changing attitudes about food. While Trader Joe’s is not a health food chain, it stocks a dizzying array of organics. It sells billions of dollars in food and beverages that years ago would have been considered gourmet but are now mainstays of the U.S. diet, such as craft beers and white-cheese popcorn. The genius of Trader Joe’s is staying a step ahead of Americans’ increasingly adventurous palates with interesting new items that shoppers will collectively buy in big volumes.
The article goes on to summarize the history of Trader Joe’s for people (like me!) who wondered how the Hawaiian print shirts and tropical theme started:
The retailer’s foodie roots and quirky in-store culture date to the original Joe. Joe Coulombe (pronounced COO-lomb), now 8, opened the first Trader Joe’s 43 years ago in Pasadena to serve a sophisticated — but strapped — consumer. He named the store Trader Joe’s to evoke images of the South Seas. He stocked it with convenience-store items and good booze, and at one time his shop boasted the world’s largest assortment of California wine. (Decades later Trader Joe’s would again become famous for wine, specifically its $1.99 Charles Shaw label, better known as “Two-Buck Chuck.”) Coulombe then added health food — a seemingly odd combination that totally worked in 1970s California. By the late 1970s he was operating more than 20 locations.
Trader Joe’s standard benefits and treatment of employees is described (keep in mind that this article was written in 2010). This is what we can expect when we are successful in getting a Trader Joe’s store here – good jobs and good salaries for people in our community. All around, Trader Joe’s is an employer that treats its employees well.
You can’t buy engagement from employees, but the pay at Trader Joe’s helps. Store managers, “captains” in Trader Joe’s parlance — the nautical titles are a holdover from Coulombe (newly promoted captains are commanders; assistant store managers are first mates) — can make in the low six figures, and full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. But on top of the pay, Trader Joe’s annually contributes 15.4% of employees’ gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.
Finally, the following information shows that Trader Joe’s ethical treatment of employees leads to
…better customer experience. A ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers. Registers don’t have conveyor belts or scales, and perishables are sold by unit instead of weight, speeding up checkout. Crew members aren’t told the margins on products, so placement decisions are made based not on profits but on what’s best for the shopper. Every employee works all aspects of the store, and if you ask where the roasted chestnuts are he’ll walk you over instead of just saying “aisle five.” Want to know what they taste like? He can probably tell you, and he might even open the bag on the spot for you to try.
As we’re fond of saying, Trader Joe’s will be an asset to Central Illinois by providing great products at prices we currently can’t find in our area and good jobs for local people. Thank you for continuing to tell others and growing the petition signature numbers, showing the need in our community. It is up to each one of us to bring awareness to this effort since widespread exposure is ultimately a huge factor in our success.
Read the full article here: Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s – Aug. 23, 2010.