The 'Joe' of Trader Joe's


Have you ever wandered the aisles of Trader Joes and thought ‘Who is Joe?’ Don’t worry, we are here to uncover that nagging question! 

     Joe Coulumbe is a San Diego native and a Stanford graduate. He was researching convenience stores for a drugstore chain when he was asked to start a knockoff 7/11. In 1958, he started his grocery business with a chain of markets called Pronto Markets. He wanted to avoid the typical feel of a 7/11 so he paid his employees a median income. His inspirations and ideas for what was to come next came from many different places and eventually morphed into Trader Joe’s.

     The first Trader Joe’s was founded and opened in Pasadena in 1967. The use of the word Trader has meaning behind it. At the time, the Boeing 747 was going to drastically reduce shipping costs. Joe picked the name Trader to represent the South Seas; where he got his inspiration from. The early stores, and you can even see it now, were decorated with marine artifacts and if you have noticed, there seems to be a bit of culture at each store. Have you ever noticed the bright Hawaiian shirts?

     All of the Trader Joe’s are strategically placed. Coulumbe once read a Scientific American article that explained that a majority of people who were qualified to go to college actually went. He decided to set up all Trader Joe’s near learning centers and/or schools. His goal was to serve the well-educated people. In fact, he has commented that Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people! Another Scientific American article stated that many people were learning more about the environmental movement. People started to care about their health. Coulumbe embraced this new trend and awareness which is seen by the products in the stores.

            Trader Joe’s has thrived for a multitude of reasons. One being the income level of the employees. They get paid well, medium-sized incomes for most, and have great benefits. The quality of the people is another important factor to the success of this market. In the past, supermarkets did not have much variety or excitement when speaking about products. Joe wanted to change that. Trader Joe’s offers a variety of cultural foods and drinks to spark imagination and encourage people to try new things. Joe implemented the use of discontinuity as a market tool. This strategy has seen fantastic results and continues to bring buyers back when they know a certain product will come into ‘season.’ One of Coulumbe’s most important principles was to never make a mandatory sale. This rule of ‘don’t give orders to a customer’ enhanced their already great customer service. Along with the superb food selection, Trader Joe’s has a vast supply of alcohol. In the late 60’s, Trader Joe’s sold almost every single wine that was available in CA!

            Joe Coulumbe parted from Trader Joe’s in 1979, selling to the Albrecht family of Germany. He knew that his stores were in good hands because the family knew they had something great when they acquired it.


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