By Ruth Storkel
Trader Joe’s—my favorite grocery store!
There are now over 560 of them nationwide. Trader Joe’s opened in Burien around 1995…that was well over 25 years ago!
We ask the question, “Who was this man, Trader Joe?” Was he just a myth, a fictitious person, a legend…what? Yes, we learn there really was a “Joe” behind this unique grocery store. His name was Joe Coulombe; he opened his first T.J. store in 1967 in Pasadena, California.
Joe attended Stanford University and earned a business degree.
In his biography, he states that he and the others who built Trader Joe’s into what it is today “all came from the School of Hard Knocks.”
Joe ran a small grocery chain called “Pronto Markets” convenience stores similar to “7-11s”. As a convenience store operator in L.A., he decided to open a new grocery chain that would appeal to well-educated, well-traveled consumers the mainstream supermarkets were ignoring. Pasadena was the ideal location to launch his new store, a city surrounded by colleges, a hospital, and big engineering firms. Author Benjamin Lorr commented on Joe Coulombe, saying: “He was a grocery outsider who was able to see things differently.”
The first Pasadena store had a nautical theme; employees wore Polynesian shirts and Bermuda Shorts. Hawaiian music played in the background. The manager was called “The Captain,” and the other employees were “The Crew.”
Back in 1967, the merchandise was quite different than today…it was more like a typical convenience store with miscellaneous groceries, books and magazines, socks, hosiery, records, and photofinishing. The “big draw” was the huge alcohol selection!
Fast-forward to the present, and we can see a considerable evolution into a completely different store!
To learn more about the company’s fascinating history, you will have to do what I did: I couldn’t resist buying Trader Joe’s biography, “Becoming Trader Joe: How I Did Business My Way and Still Beat the Big Guys .”(c. 2021, Harper/Collins Leadership publishing.)
Although I am not a “business-minded” person, I found this book fascinating! Some of the chapters include:
“The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”
“Mac the Knife”
“Good Time Charley”
“Skunks in the Office”
Joe shares many unusual stories about his business decisions, successes, and failures, emphasizing: “This is the most important business decision I ever made: to pay people well.”
Joe developed a handful of stores located in Southern California, owning them from 1967 to 1979. In 1979 he sold Trader Joe’s to Theo Albrecht, owner of the European Aldi grocery chain. Joe continued to be CEO until 1988. His successor, John Shields, turned Trader Joe’s into a nationwide chain that now has 560 stores and over 50,000 employees.
Crew members I’ve talked to love being employed at Trader Joe’s.
One broom-pushing male said he had worked there 4 years, first at Federal Way and then at Burien. “It’s been a great job!”he said.
Another clerk stated he had worked in several other stores, and Trader Joe’s was definitely the best. For every person I poll, there is always a burst of enthusiasm and appreciation for working there.
Employee benefits? Trader Joe’s has exceptional medical, dental, and vision plans, an average wage of $18.89, pay raises every 6 months, a 20% discount on food and merchandise, paid time off, and a 401 k retirement plan.
If you are seeking great employment, Trader Joe’s may be the place for you. For more information, go to: https://www.traderjoes.com.
Next: Trader Joe’s Part 3:
Trader Joe’s Food Hall of Fame
Trader Joe Trivia
The 19-cent Banana Story