If you were to visit this page you will see that MY favourite store, Trader Joe’s, was listed as one of Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies last year. Naturally, I was thrilled to hear this.
(By the way, with Apple being ranked #1 for most innovative, and Trader Joe’s, a grocery store, being ranked #11, you gotta know off the bat, this is one business worth paying attention to)
Formerly Trader Joe’s was a hidden treasure to me – likely because I live in Canada and we don’t have Trader Joe’s stores here and if we DID, I would shop there exclusively for all my groceries. But we don’t. So when I go to the U.S., and talk about how great Trader Joe’s is and how I need to make a pit stop there before returning home (usually to stock up on about 3 months supply of non-perishable organic and natural goods), everyone acts like it’s no big deal.
“Oh yeah I like Trader Joe’s. But we also shop at…”
So of course if these friends of mine would sell out on Trader Joe’s to also shop at some other place, they must not see Trader Joe’s in the light that I see it in. Nor do many Canadians know about it either, which is strange.
That brings me to why I was so happy to see the company covered in a prestigious business magazine like Fast Company. Finally, someone else see’s what I see in the store!
Below are the reasons why I think they do so well at their marketing, how they managed to double sales compared to Whole Foods with 8 Billion in profit (allegedly, according to Fast Company), and how they opened 50 more stores than Whole Foods, without leaving the U.S. Fact is, Trader Joe’s does good business, and they do that by giving people like me a really fun time while shopping for food (which, by the way, feels like a chore at every other sterile and monotone grocer).
For any of my fellow Canadians who have never been to Trader Joe’s, let me describe in words, and later in photos, what you may experience there that makes them so different, and would make you want to spend money, as all good businesses should.
Numero Uno: (I have no idea if I just spelled that right…) The ambiance, signage, branding, and décor all make you feel like you’re in Hawaii. Even the employees wear Hawaiin shirts. Don’t know where that concept came from, but who doesn’t like Hawaii?! Couldn’t have gone wrong with that decision at their corporate headquarters, I’ll say.
Deux: Everything about the store feels NOT like a super market. It feels like a market, without the “super”. The buggies are small, the space is small(er), the isles are short and the checkouts are little stands. Basically, you feel like you’re in a nice quaint town (or Europe), and you can stop by your local market at any time to pick up what you need, and see people you know. They call themselves “Your Neighbourhood Grocery Store.” But oh, they are so much more than that…
When I was in California once a friend and I were trying to decide what to eat or where to go for dinner. We made it really simple: let’s go to Trader Joe’s. She got the Mediterranean plate, and I got a teriyaki bowl. We came home, heated up, and had ourselves a tasty, inexpensive, non-preservative-filled meal.
Three: It is so cheap!
Four: Everything they sell is either organic, or natural, or has no preservatives. You’ve gotta love that, I mean, seriously, combined with reason three, this one is the icing AND the cherry on top of the cake. By private-labeling all their products, this company found a way to make healthy eating accessible to the average consumer, which is the mass consumer. Smart.
Five: All the packaging is branded, and talks in cool lingo, and makes you want to read everything. They tell you how to use sauces or ingredients, and even the tissue box has messages for you on all 6 sides! They make their product fun. They speak the language of their audience. They take every opportunity to emit their brand values into you, and to identify with you. NOW, business is getting personal….
Six: They put together unique flavours, with unique names, which makes their product UNIQUE. It’s just food, but it’s amazing how this company makes you LOVE eating – not at a restaurant, but at home, or in your daily life (like your snack at work), which makes the mundane task of chewing a whole lot more interesting.
Try chili lime pistachios, orange flavoured dried cranberries, gingerbread coffee beans, Spicy Soy & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips, everything-flavoured bagel chips, pineapple salsa, butternut squash soup, Chile spiced mango peels (that’s actually gross, but it sounds interesting), Mango Green Tea juice, Sesame Honey Almonds, Sunflower Seed Butter…oh, and “Granola and the 3 Berries” granola cereal!
The list never really stops (well, it does at 4000). I could go on an on. And I’ll show you a photo album in a little bit too.
Rumour has it that Trader Joe’s takes a different approach to getting customer feedback, and the result of that is that we get the products we like, and want to buy, rather than items that suppliers paid to be on their shelves. What is their different approach, you may ask? They talk to customers directly. (Go figure!). Their 1-800 number is an answering service, and they have no centralized e-mail dumping ground. This forces customers to go to their store and talk to their local Trader Joe’s employees and managers about the foods they want (talk about localizing your product mix for better sales!). The employees have access to headquarters to give feedback, and who knows a company’s customer more than the most bottom-level employee who interacts with them on a daily basis? Is this not the story of how the Frappuccino came to fame at Starbucks? We have a lesson to learn here.
Seven: They sell household and personal care stuff too. I love their oatmeal soaps, their lavender oil salt scrub (actually I like the pink grapefruit one better but couldn’t find it last time), Their dish soap, their laundry detergent. It’s all stuff that’s either natural, or better for the environment in some way, and it always feels good to know you’re buying something ethical and not breaking the bank while doing it either.
So there you have it, another way they make you feel good about spending money.
Eight: They sell reusable bags that are designed very prettily. It’s awesome because you don’t have to feel like you’re out of style when you take your shopping bags with you to the store that makes you feel happy. You also get to flaunt that you shop at Trader Joe’s whenever you happen to be at Safeway.
Nine: They make life simple by reducing the options. When you shop at Trader Joe’s, you don’t have to worry about getting lost, or trying to hitchhike your way to the other end of the store because you forgot to pick up the milk. According to Fast Company, they carry only 4,000 items, instead of 50,000, which other chains carry. That means less decision making, which translates to less stress and more time saved. How considerate of Trader Joe’s to value my time and make life more convenient for me!
Ten: Their employees are humans, not robots. Once I was at the cash register, and decided to open my Trader Joe’s bottle of flavoured sparkling water while waiting for a friend, and ka-boom! The fuzz exploded and went everywhere as soon as I twisted the cap. All I needed were some paper towels, but the staff jumped to help me clean up AND they brought me another bottle of sparkling water! It wasn’t even their fault, it was mine, but they took the opportunity to show me they cared that it totally stinks when your beverage explodes on you.
The only uniform at Trader Joe’s is a Hawaiian t-shirt, which makes the environment more relaxed, and more welcoming from a human-to-human perspective. It is ALWAYS easy to ask for help from a clerk when you need it, because they are constantly roaming around stocking shelves. They will happily go to the back to check if something you wanted is still available.
Compared to other grocery store employees, who don’t know where anything is and act like you’re the reason their life is so depressing when you dare approach them for help, it sure is a sweet deal going to Trader Joe’s.
Eleven: They have a tasting bar. It’s so cool, you get to try recipes that they make out of the stuff they have in store, and it’s always open! Free little cups of great tasting coffee too. In fact, that was how I knew I wanted to invest in my own can of Trader Joe’s coffee once…which is probably descriptive of why they keep the tasting bar open all the time.
What have we learned from Trader Joe’s as fellow business owners? Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll sum it up into 8 actionable items.
Now, for the slideshow! Click on a thumbnail to see bigger photos.