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Monday, April 18, 2011

Trader Joe's Neighborhood Grocery Retail Experience

Trader Joe's Neighborhood Grocery Retail Experience
A recent conversation about the food and grocery retail experience with Penny Hammond, co-president of Columbia Business School's Alumni Club of New York and expert in food restrictions, had us discussing Trader Joe's, the national chain of neighborhood specialty grocery store.

The Trader Joe's experience is always one of delicious discovery and thoughtful customer focus. In a recent visit, when the daffodil bunches had run out, a 'crew member' [aka store associate] found a handful and gave them to my distraught daughter. No charge. I love browsing and shopping there and wish one were closer to me.

My conversation with Penny reminded me of a CNNMoney.com article about Trader Joe's that my nephew, Sean Sullivan [who contributed My Election Day Experience], shared with me.  It's titled Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's - Full Version and is worth reading for perspective on this savvy retailer that "elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience."

The article states that Trader Joe's now "boasts 344 stores in 25 states and Washington, D.C., and strip-mall operators and consumers alike aggressively lobby the chain, based in Monrovia, Calif., to come to their towns. A Trader Joe's brings with it good jobs, and its presence in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart." I agree!  We tried to petition Trader Joe's to come closer to our neck of the woods.

Furthermore, "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." Trader Joe's sets food trends.

Other highlights:

  • Sales for last year approximated $8 billion [equivalent to Whole Foods].
  • The company has a "deliberately scaled-down strategy... opening just five more locations this year" [and sadly not in our neighborhood]
  • Stores remain relatively small with a limited [~ 4,000 SKUs vs. the usual 50,000 SKUs that traditional groceries carry] and carefully curated selection of products that turn over frequently.
  • Stores sell ~ $1,750 per square foot in merchandise

The article refers to The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less and how having too many options available for shoppers can paralyze them, preventing from making purchase decisions. No such problem at Trader Joe's where those curated selections mean deliberately limited options. It details the transparency that Trader Joe's has brought to the grocery model and the simplification it has brought to food distribution by seeking to "minimize the number of hands that touch a product, wherever possible." 

Did you know that  placement decisions in-store have to do with what's best for customers rather than solely on profits? On top of that, you find at Trader Joe's the kind of genuine personal engagement that has patrons returning regularly for more. Each store feels just like a neighborhood grocery retail experience.

Long time readers of Flooring The Consumer may remember an early post from 2007 titled Trader Joe's: Where Values Drive the Brand based on a presentation by CEO Dan Bane. It's a popular post.

If you read Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe's and my 2007 post, would you let me know how you might apply some of these ideas to your retail experiences? I'm thinking it's time to make a trip to my Trader Joe's...


BTW, no surprise given Trader Joe's secretiveness, I noticed no official social media presence. However, I did notice an unofficial fan based forum site focused on Trader Joe's recipes and products. Here is a link to the unofficial Trader Joe's Facebook Fan Page. There's also Cooking With Trader Joe's on Facebook and several blogs...

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