Review of Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s

Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s – Full Version from Fortune Magazine

Very secretive company. Privately owned. Difficult for writer to get inside information.

Just opening 5 locations this year. Very successful company but are very careful about expanding too fast without thorough planning and research.

Fortune author spent 2 months on this Trader Joe’s story researching and interviewing former executives, competitors and industry analysts.

Stock 4,000 SKUs, 80% of all stock bears the Trader Joe’s brand. To give you perspective on that amount, a typical grocery stores stock 50,000 SKUs. So Trader Joe’s careful targets those items that fit with their philosophy, demographics and can be sold in large volume.
The presence of a Trader Joe’s in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart.

Sales were approximately $8 billion in 2009.

Some business expand too much, just look at Starbuck’s recent contraction. Others like clothier Patagonia remain small and loyal devotees. Trader Joe’s is trying to be both, marrying cult appeal with scale or marrying fidelity with convenience. Might be possible and if anyone can do it, Trader Joe’s has chance although good luck getting anyone in the company to talk about their expansion plans.

One of the hottest retailers, there are 344 stores in 25 states.

Stores sell roughly $1,750 in merchandise per foot, more than double Whole Foods’.

Genius of Trader Joe’s is staying ahead of Americans’ adventurous palates with interesting new items that will sell in large volumes.

To choose new locations, employees look at demographics to ensure the location will support the new store.

Registers don’t have conveyor belts which many Trader Joe’s customers may not notice and perishable items sold by unit instead of weight to speed up checkout.

Trader Joe’s annually contributes 15.4% of employees’ gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.

They are number 314 on the Fortune 500 list, roughly the same as Whole Foods.

They are customer centric at Trader Joe’s — ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers.

Employees are taught to know where everything is in the store and if you ask them where they can find the tofu, instead of an employee telling you, he or she will show you.

A relatively unknown fact is Trader Joe’s is owned by Germany’s ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire.

Some former employees worry that TJ is losing its appeal as CEO Dan Bane has made the headquarters more corporate with more layers and hierarchy and more titles such as a product developer. In addition, some employees think TJ doesn’t have the same feel it once did and perhaps has lost some of its quirky cool.

Indeed, as the author was interviewing former employees and industry analysts for this story, they heard much negativity about TJ and questioning whether this brand can stay current and cool. On the other hand, Trader Joe’s is as popular and successful as ever. Even though only 5 new stores are being opened for 2010, there are many cities voicing their desire to get this special brand in their community. Time will tell if they can hold onto their special brand and continue to grow.

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.

4 Responses

  1. bkrandomaccess says:

    The "quirky cool" element of TJ is part of the marketing/branding. There is a green and social responsibility element that they have, but it is not dominate as in Whole Foods. If you want to be radically green, go to WF. If you want to have fun, go to TJ, and you can still be green, too!

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