With over five hundred stores in forty-two states (and Washington D.C.!), Trader Joe’s is a quintessential American supermarket. Its prices are low, its customer service is good, and its food selection is fresh and diverse. All that to say, it’s a favorite among many. But, even if you shop there regularly, odd are there’s a lot you don’t know about this popular supermarket. If you want a behind the scenes look into the world of Trader Joe’s, you’ve come to the right place. Here are ten more untold truths of Trader Joe’s!
10. Crew Members are Minor Celebrities
Trader Joe’s is famous for its friendly floor staff – or, Crew Members, as they’re officially called – who walk the aisles in floral print shirts, greeting customers with a smile. In fact, the supermarket’s employees are so helpful and polite, that they tend to leave a lasting impression, especially on those who visit Trader Joe’s on the regular. Many Trader Joe’s Crew Members have gained something of a minor celebrity status and get recognized outside of the store. This is something that the company takes very seriously, as customer service is high priority. Employees are frequently reminded that they represent Trader Joe’s, whether they’re in uniform or not. This means that Crew Members always have to be ready to put on their customer-service faces when they’re out and about. Any customer who recognizes them as a Trader Joe’s employee has to be greeted with that classic Trader Joe’s charm. For these employees, the job isn’t over once they’ve clocked out. This isn’t something that agrees with everyone. Many people don’t like the idea of taking their work home with them and customer-service, in particular, can be exhausting. If you want to work at Trader Joe’s, you need to be willing to fully commit to your role and can’t get scared off by the pressure of representing the company everywhere you go.
9. Supervised Sampling
Trader Joe’s employees are generally good-natured, but, like anyone else in the customer-service industry, they have their workplace pet peeves. One of the big ones is when customers sample items off the shelves without asking first. This is one of those social norms that a lot of people are guilty of breaking. Seriously, who can honestly say that they’ve ever bought a bag of grapes without trying at least one? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to taste test but, at Trader Joe’s, there are some rules about how you should go about it. The supermarket doesn’t allow customers to sample any of their products without a Crew Member present. So, don’t go opening any packages without a staff member there to supervise. Also, it kind of goes without saying that there are certain products that customers aren’t allowed to sample, such as baking mixes or anything frozen. Why anyone would want to sample a box of raw cake mix is beyond us but, if you ask a Trader Joe’s employee if you’re allowed, the answer will most definitely be no. All in all, this seems like a pretty fair policy, for both the customers and the store itself.
8. Baby’s First Product
If you know Trader Joe’s, you know that the bulk of the products sold in the store are marketed under the Trader Joe’s private label. At this point, something like ninety percent of the items on their shelves are Trader Joe’s brand. Not selling name-brand products is one of the ways in which Trader Joe’s is able to keep their prices so low. All of this is pretty common knowledge. But do you know which product started it all? Trader Joe’s dropped their first name-brand product in the early seventies – about five years after the company was founded. If you want to place your bets on what exactly this product was, now would be the time. If you guessed granola (and we would be very surprised if you did), you would be correct. Today, there’s very little you can’t buy under the Trader Joe’s label but, way back when, there was nothing but granola. Why this was the food item they decided to start with, we can’t tell you. But we can say that it was definitely successful in paving the way for the rest of the brand. If you’re a big Trader Joe’s fan, you owe a lot to this little guy. To address the question that’s on everyone’s minds, yes, Trader Joe’s granola is still available for purchase.
7. Saved by the Bell
If you’ve ever shopped at Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably noticed the absence of the intercom system. Unlike other grocery stores, the endless stream of Top 40 Hits is never interrupted by employees’ announcements of “Clean up on aisle nine”. But, as a Trader Joe customer, you’ve probably also noticed that the music doesn’t go completely uninterrupted. Instead of voices over an intercom, songs are broken up with the ringing of bells. These bells actually serve the same purpose as an intercom system. By ringing them, Trader Joe’s employees are able to communicate with one another in a secret code. The bells are located at the registers and are usually rung by the cashiers. The code itself is pretty straightforward – the meaning is based on the number of rings. According to former Trader Joe’s employees, one ring is a call for someone to open an additional cash register. Two rings mean that a customer or a cashier at check-out has a question, while three rings are used to summon a manager to the cash. At particularly busy times, you might hear the bell rung four times. This signal means “all-hands-on-deck”, which calls all available Crew Members to the registers. Apparently, this system is super efficient and, judging by how smoothly things run at Trader Joe’s, we’re inclined to believe that. It also fits perfectly with their nautical theme, since it’s the same type of system that was used on trade ships.
6. Perks of Being a Trader Joe’s Employee
If you’re considering applying for a job at Trader Joe’s, you’ll be happy to hear that the job has some pretty great perks. For one thing, all employees get a ten percent discount off of their groceries. This isn’t the most impressive employee discount out there, but it definitely makes a difference. Trader Joe’s is famous for paying its staff really well. Crew Members are paid between ten and twenty-five dollars per hour. Pay varies, as every few months employees are eligible for pay raises, which are given based on teamwork, productivity, and excellent customer service. While not everyone will get a raise every time, the opportunity is available to all employees. With hard work and dedication, Crew Members have the chance to increase their salaries by up to ten percent each year. Store managers, or Captains, rake in impressive salaries – some of them making six figures every year! As for benefits, after three months, Crew Members are offered dental, medical, and vision healthcare plans at a reasonable rate. Additionally, ten percent of Crew Members’ salary is automatically contributed to their retirement plans. Employees are also offered paid time-off, which increases the longer they work there. When it comes to their Crew Members, the Trader Joe’s motto goes: “You are making an investment in us—we are making an investment in and for you.”
5. The Return Policy
When it comes to returning products, there’s no store as understanding as Trader Joe’s. They’ll accept anything for return, no questions asked. And when we say anything, we mean anything. Whether it’s unopened or half eaten, they’ll take it back. If that weren’t enough, you don’t even need to show them a receipt. If you’re good about keeping your receipts and have it on hand when you go to return a purchase, you’ll get your money back in cash. If you threw out or lost the receipt (which we’ve all been guilty of before), you can still return the product but, instead of cash, you’ll be given store credit, in the form of a gift card. In this case, the amount of money on the gift card will correspond to the lowest advertised price of the item you want to return. This is crazy generous of Trader Joe’s and, in return, staff members ask that you don’t take advantage of it. The policy is there to be used when what you bought really doesn’t live up to your expectations. But some customers abuse it, for example by trying to return dead plants that they themselves had killed by not taking proper care of them. Asking for a refund in cases like that is kind of ridiculous and is a great way to annoy Trader Joe’s employees.
4. The Gangway Factor
One of the issues people have with Trader Joe’s is that products have a tendency to disappear. And it always happens right after you’ve fallen in love. It’s the oldest story in the Trader Joe’s book: you discover a new product, it becomes an instant favorite, then you never find it again. As frustrating as it is, there’s actually a good reason for it. One of the reasons why Trader Joe’s products frequently vanish without a trace is something called the Gangway Factor. First of all, we have to address Trader Joe’s commitment to their nautical theme – “Gangway” was a term used on ships to warn people to “get out of the way”. The basic idea behind the Gangway Factor is that products that aren’t selling well are removed to make room for new products. This strategy makes a lot of sense for a store like Trader Joe’s, since most of the locations are decently small and new items are introduced regularly. The Gangway Factor allows for a more efficient use of space, as it gets rid of items that are just sitting around collecting dust. Of course, if you’re one of the few people who actually buys an item that it told to “gangway!”, you’ll be disappointed to see it go. But, on the bright side, this strategy helps reduce waste in the long run. All unsold products will eventually meet their “best before” date and have to be thrown away. If a specific item is selling poorly, it’ll mean a whole lot of garbage. By swapping out unpopular products for one’s that will hopefully perform better, Trader Joe’s is making an admirable effort to minimize waste. So, as annoying as it is to find out an item you love has been told to walk the plank, you’ve got to respect the logic behind it.
3. Travel Through Food
Trader Joe’s was founded by a man named Joe Coulombe who, upon enrolling at Stanford university, discovered a whole new culinary world. He was introduced to many new and delicious foods at the home of Alice Steere, his future wife. His interest in trying new foods and expanding his taste played a big role in the development of Trader Joe’s. Around the time of Trader Joe’s foundation, Boeing’s 474 jet was born. Coulombe predicted that this would lead to an increased interest in travel, which in turn would encourage people to try more foods from different cultures. Based on this, Coulombe aimed to develop a supermarket with a diverse food supply. He further incorporated the element of travel by giving his stores a fun, nautical vacation element. He also wanted to keep prices low, so that those who didn’t have the money to actually travel or shop at more high-end stores still had the opportunity to try interesting food and expand their palates to include flavors from other cultures.
2. Trader Joe’s by Any Other Name…
Not much at Trader Joe’s has changed over the years. It’s still pretty faithful to the concept Joe Coulombe came up with way back in the fifties. It’s become such a staple of the supermarket world that it’s almost impossible to imagine it any other way. But things could have easily gone another way. Trader Joe’s came very close to being called something different. Originally, the supermarket was a convenience store named Pronto Market. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Coulombe was one of the founding members of Pronto Market, which, at the time, was a very small chain. Eventually, he decided to buy it. But it was still a while before Trader Joe’s came to be. For the first ten or so years of his ownership, Coulombe maintained the Pronto Market name. Finally, in the late sixties, the name Trader Joe’s was born. And it’s been that way ever since. It’s been so long now that it’s weird to imagine the supermarket with a different name, but there’s an alternate universe where the name was never changed.
1. Taste Test
There’s a lot that goes into being a Trader Joe’s Crew Member. Like any other customer service position, it’s hard work. On top of that, staff members have several responsibilities behind the scenes. While they’re an important part of the job, not all of these requirements feel like work. Trader Joe’s prides itself on great customer service and one element of that is their Crew Members’ ability to recommend products to customers. So that they’re able to give the best possible recommendations and help customers find exactly what they’re looking for, employees have to be familiar with everything they have in stock. In terms of food, this means that they have to know what it tastes like and how it can be prepared. As a result, taste testing is a big part of working at Trader Joe’s. Employees are expected to try a lot of the Trader Joe’s food and tastings are frequently arranged by management. They also put together recipes using Trader Joe’s ingredients, which are shared with their co-workers in the break room. Cooking with the products is the best way to learn about them, so this probably helps Crew Members out a lot when they’re trying to assist customers. There aren’t many jobs where you can expect your colleagues to cook for you on a regular basis, but that’s just another perk of working at Trader Joe’s.