He advises several startups in Silicon Valley, most focused on improving health and education.
The waiting shoppers chat about their favorite Trader Joe's foods, and a woman in line launches into a monologue comparing the retailer's West Coast and East Coast locations. Another customer suggests that the chain will be good for Chelsea, even though the area is already brimming with places to buy groceries, including Whole Foods and several upscale food boutiques.
But 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.
Comment Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you're unhappy with a purchase -- no questions asked.
At the Chelsea store opening, workers greeted customers with high-fives and free cookies. Try getting that kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly. It's little wonder that Trader Joe's is one of the hottest retailers in the U.
It now boasts stores in 25 states and Washington, D. 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. Unlike those massive shopping emporiums, Trader Joe's has a deliberately scaled-down strategy: It is opening just five more locations this year.
The company selects relatively small stores with a carefully curated selection of items. The company has no stanford business reporter of cnn and funds all growth from its own coffers.
You'd think Trader Joe's would be eager to trumpet its success, but management is obsessively secretive. There are no signs with the company's name or logo at headquarters in Monrovia, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany's ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire.
Famous in Germany for not talking to the press, the Albrechts have passed their tightlipped ways on to their U. Trader Joe's and its CEO, Dan Bane, declined repeated requests to speak to Fortune, and the company has never participated in a major story about its business operations.
Some of that may be because Trader Joe's business tactics are often very much at odds with its image as the funky shop around the corner that sources its wares from local farms and food artisans.
Sometimes it does, but big, well-known companies also make many of Trader Joe's products. Those Trader Joe's pita chips? To get inside the mysterious world of Trader Joe's, Fortune spent two months speaking with former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers, most of whom asked not to be named.
What emerged is a picture of a business at a crossroads: As the company expands into new markets and adds stores -- analysts say the grocer could easily triple its size in the coming years -- it must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers.
The alternative is to remain a small brand with unflagging devotees, like outdoor clothier Patagonia. If it can get the balance right, Trader Joe's may be one of the few retailers to marry cult appeal with scale. Just don't expect anyone from the company to talk about it.
Who's a fan of Trader Joe's? Kevin Kelley, whose consulting firm Shook Kelley has researched Trader Joe's for its competitors, jokes that the typical shopper is the "Volvo-driving professor who could be CEO of a Fortune company if he could get over his capitalist angst.
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. 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 retailer's foodie roots and quirky in-store culture date to the original Joe. Joe Coulombe pronounced COO-lombnow 80, 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. By the late s he was operating more than 20 locations.
The company's success did not go unnoticed. Even in the early days, Trader Joe's appeal was its narrow but zany selection and loyal customers, recalls Dieter Brandes, who did due diligence on the company for Albrecht. It was different," he says. InCoulombe sold his company to Albrecht.What she does: New York-based markets reporter.
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