The Secret Behind Trader Joe’s Immense Success

By Joseph Farago | 1 month ago

trader joe's

Trader Joe’s is an essential grocery store for many living in the United States. With a plethora of healthy snacks and unique meals, this market has a relentless customer following. The company’s success starts with the founder himself: the real-life Trader Joe.

Joe Coulombe was a convenience store owner in the late 1960s. He resided in Los Angeles, California, and spent decades crafting the perfect grocery store for the new demographic migrating to the city. By 1981, Coulombe already had his sight set on a market catered to well-traveled consumers who wanted more exquisite, high-end produce. He told the Los Angeles Times that his new store would cater to those who wished to buy “something other than Velveeta.” Coulombe recognized that most markets ignored this large demographic, which spawned the initial inspiration for Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s wasn’t just created out of luck, though. Joe Coulombe was considering many things when figuring out what his new convenience store would hold, including the recent release of the Boeing 747. The famous commercial plane, which is still in use, launched in the early 1970s. Coulombe wanted a grocery store that catered to sightseers and those coming to LA from other countries due to the sudden increase of people traveling by air.

The first Trader Joe’s opened in California in 1967. Though Coulombe was located in Los Angeles, the grocery store’s first location was in Pasadena, northeast of the LA city center. The area was picked primarily because of the store’s intended demographic. Pasadena had prominent colleges, emerging engineering firms, and visitors from all around the globe. This amalgamation of different people was what Joe Coulombe was looking for in his initial search for Trader Joe’s locations.

According to food author Benjamin Lorr, Coulombe’s unconventional take on grocery stores made Trader Joe’s a resounding success. In his book “The Secret Life of Groceries,” Lorr stated that Coulombe’s idea that food could be a place for exploration deviated from the typical convenience store’s consumer attitude. Many markets at the time wanted to provide food staples, while Trader Joe’s wanted to bring something more unique and high-end. Today, Trader Joe’s unconventional items have drawn mass attention nationwide.

Though Trader Joe’s has kept many of its principal ideals the same over the years, its aesthetic has made a few adjustments. The first-ever Trader Joe’s had a nautical theme, including fish decor, netting, and half of a rowboat hanging out in the store. The grocery store insisted on having the theme incorporated amongst the employees, changing the manager’s title to captain and the assistant’s title to the first mate. Alongside the language shifts, only Hawaiian music was allowed to play over the loudspeaker, making sure the nautical mood was evident. Though the dress code has stayed relatively similar over the years, the interior design has received an upgrade.

As Joe Coulombe became the first grocery store owner to tap into an overlooked demographic, his market began to expand to all states in the country. Today, Trader Joe’s is a destination for many food lovers hoping to purchase unique, flavorful items unavailable in other grocery stores.