My family has a California connection, so I’ve been going to Trader Joe’s for a loooooong time. I was thrilled when one opened in Hadley about ten years ago, because it’s unlike other grocery stores. . . and what it does, it does very well. Here’s why I love this store:
- They don’t try to do everything you’d expect from a grocery store. Instead they focus on products where they can offer something special and provide impressive value.
- Although they don’t try to be 100% organic, or to limit themselves to all the other “clean eating” virtues, it’s clear they tend toward healthier options wherever it’s reasonable and economical.
- Their staples are of good quality and are competitively priced.
- Their prepared foods are less odious and generally taste better than I’d expect.
- They have an obvious and distinctive set of values and create a fun atmosphere.
- You can tell the employees don’t hate being there.
Everyone seems to have their favorite Trader Joe’s item(s) and, for people who have been there, their most sorely missed discontinued gems (bring back the Pollo Asado Pizza, I beg you!) and it’s hard to find people who dislike the place. . . except for the crowds during prime time, and if that’s a business’s worst problem, they’re probably not too sorry.
Smart, lean, fun, distinctive, and unbeatable value at whatever they choose to do. That’s what I strive to accomplish with my web design consultancy, and if people were to think of tuman.design as the Trader Joe’s of websites, I’d be totally satisfied.
As a coda, let me add a couple of words about three stores that share some similarities, but which I chose not to write about: Costco, Whole Foods, and local Co-ops. I like them all and buy things at each regularly, but if I were to emulate just one, it’d be Joe’s. Here’s why:
- Costco has good corporate values, as is widely reported, and they also carefully select items so they can source them from generally better manufacturers than their competitors AND give them killer pricing. They don’t go just for the cheapest thing, they’re true value providers, and where a thing is better but costs more, they’re not afraid to stock it. Although they’re ruthlessly efficient and good for the consumer, they make no effort to be distinctive or memorable, and they make conscious efforts to make popular items hard to find (also widely reported) so people have to search for them, thereby being exposed to new things that the managers hope they’ll discover and buy. Effective but annoying.
- Whole Foods has a great cheese counter and lots of appealing offerings throughout the store, and they clearly make calculated decisions on what to carry, with generally good intentions. That said, their nickname “Whole Paycheck” clearly disqualifies them from contention as a high value store. I also think a lot of their produce and other staples aren’t any better than you’d get anywhere else. It looks like Amazon is rapidly fixing some of these problems, and it’ll be interesting to see where they land.
- Co-ops are the most virtuous of them all, and it’s hard to argue with their mission. The quality is often very high, as are their prices, though if you know what things cost elsewhere, it’s often surprising what a good deal things like coffee, bulk foods, spices, etc. can be. The reason I see myself more as a Joe’s kind of guy: Co-ops are flaky and often too clever for their own good. They seem inconsistent and it’s not the kind of place where you can just drop in, grab what you need, and leave with no surprises or weirdness.
Okay, looks like the “coda” was as long as the rest of the post. . . sue me!