Why Trader Joe’s beats your grocery store brand

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As many of us in Chicagoland who grew up in primarily a Jewel and Dominick’s world, it’s easy for me to have comfort with both of these grocery store brand names. Yet, I’m ready to step outside of that comfort zone thanks to what Trader Joe’s has brought to the table. And I’m not just talking about food.

I’m a big proponent of building the brand from within – not with only terrific products/services, but a culture that is aligned with that brand and in turn results in better customer experiences.

Joe’s nails this.

The store oozes an unparalleled happiness from the moment you walk through the door. Here are people over a wide range of ages who seem to be genuinely enjoying working in their environment and helping people. The walls are bright and painted with several mantras (“Great wine shouldn’t mean expensive wine”) as if they were coming from the founder himself. As part of a promotion, we walked out with a brightly colored Trader Joe’s bag that we’ll not only be able to re-use over and over again, but a walking advertisement to be seen all over the neighborhood (further building credibility). Some employees have Hawaiian print shirts, others have colorful and fun t-shirts. At least 3 of them asked me if I needed help finding what I was looking for. The kicker for me is an extensively written newsletter that goes into rich detail about the featured products – contrast this with the typical flyer that just shows pictures of food and pricing.

Yes, perhaps you could get something close to this kind of experience at another store. But do you? Every time you walk through the door? Is it even clean half the time?

I realize some of the elements of service described above are the “sizzle.” The “steak” is the product itself – you fully expect the stuff to be overpriced across the board as gourmet items often are. But surprisingly, these items are reasonably priced and a good value for the quality in return. Heck, I don’t mind saying that sometimes you don’t mind putting a $3 bottle of Charles Shaw in your bag – in times like these, you just feel smarter for getting decent quality. And where it seems most stores are almost embarrassed to have a wine like that on the shelf, Joe’s puts it out in the open, in the center of the aisle, with the price boldly seen.

I know, I know. I sound like a paid spokesperson – trust me, I’m not on the payroll. My point is this: Think about how the Trader Joe’s culture template can be adapted to work for your company. And just because this is a business-to-consumer audience, don’t mistake this for thinking that you can’t make it work for professional services either.

Start with your product/service – is it of exceptional quality? Let’s say that it is. Think about what you believe in relation to what you’re delivering and why you do it better than anyone else. Knowing this: How do you wrap that identity around your environment? Are there colors on the wall that speak to your creativity or brand identity? How do your people answer the phone? Are there mantras that everybody can say by heart? If I talked to 10 of your clients, would they say the same kind of praise about you – and are you absolutely certain of that? Are you giving them outlets to provide feedback to you in multiple ways? If there were/are more than one location of your business, how easy is this to replicate?

Some dismiss these other elements beyond the product or service itself as just “nice to haves” rather than something being so essential to the brand. Maybe that’s why they provide a good service, but there’s still something missing that keeps them from being a great culture and as a result, a great brand.

For example, do you feel a disconnect between departments? Are there people who think their department is the heart and soul of the company rather than part of the team? This is akin to people in one department of the grocery store dressing differently than the others and providing a different level of service that’s inconsistent with the other departments. That’s not a different department – that’s pretty much a different company within the company. And that you don’t need when you’re trying to convey a united front.

An environment like Trader Joe’s doesn’t happen overnight. But when you start with a vision and brand strategy that operations later aligns with, you begin to have the makings of a brand that feels real. Genuine. With loyal employees who don’t need special incentives to be great ambassadors on your behalf.

This isn’t a mere theory. There’s a whole lot of people living and breathing it – see for yourself. On Diversey and probably just about every other Trader Joe’s location in the country.

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2 thoughts on “Why Trader Joe’s beats your grocery store brand

  1. I work right next door to the one over on Clark and Diversy, and every time I go in there, the people are fantastic. Not a single time goes by that I’m not asked if I need help, and the times I’ve asked, I’ve gotten nothing but glowing reviews and good advice on products. Not to mention, they have cheap, good sushi on the run.

    I always thought it was hyped up, but I’m glad to see it’s not.

    • You nailed it, Jordan. Those people in the flowery shirts are as knowledgeable as those newsletters of theirs. And that counts for a lot in the authenticity department. The kind of helpfulness you experienced is hard to fake and gets talked about. Joe’s seems to understand that concept better than anyone. Whole Foods is similarly great in terms of employee helpfulness/goodwill but you and I find Joe’s more convenient for our neighborhood (and more affordable).

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