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This Will Change My Life

Updated: Mar 30

Hand to God, these were the words I gleefully exclaimed when the rumors that had me giddy for months were ultimately confirmed: Trader Joe’s would be opening a location within walking distance from my home. Yeah, sure....this is exciting as its reported living near a Trader Joe’s dramatically increases your property value, adopting what is referred to in the real estate world as the “Trader Joe’s Effect”. What was even more thrilling? Asian spicy peanut vinaigrette, crunchy chili onion spread and chocolate chip mini cones were going to be at my disposal from 8am-8pm, 7 days a week.

Trader Joe’s has been in the grocery business since 1967, but I had never ventured into a location until 2003 when Southern California grocery store workers went on strike for 4 months. Rather than cross the picket line, I, like many other shoppers sought out different options to purchase food for my family. Since then my enthusiasm for Trader Joe’s has reached cult-like levels: I have hosted TJ-only potlucks, [which, as a self-professed control freak…I am my mother’s daughter, after all…was huge personal growth for me.] I follow TJ influencers on social media. I regularly create TJ-only recipes to share with family and friends.

It took some time, I’m not going to lie, to understand the rhythm of the store. So many products, very few of them name-brands. I would wander and wonder what this and that actually were, how they should be prepared and paired, but as with all TJ items, the price point is so reasonable that taking a purchase risk was a low stakes endeavor. With its incredible variety, shopping suddenly turned into a culinary adventure around the world.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s is completely warm and positive experience. TJ employees are friendly, creative, helpful, fun, joyful. They sing, they dance, they hide stuffed animals for kids to find, they love to talk about food. These are my people. The store has a small enough footprint and the employees are so personable, it feels like a throwback to shopping at the corner market in a small town. While maintaining eye-contact they ask how my day is going so far, what I might have planned for the rest of the day, the weekend. They listen and welcome the details, they may even invite a fellow coworker to join in. I ask about them in return and BOOM! Just like that we are having a conversation. With our country facing an epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, it would not be too difficult to quantify the positive impact Trader Joe’s employees have on this under appreciated public health crisis. With every visit I am experiencing an uplifting social connection, as are thousands of other shoppers.

At Trader Joe’s I feel like I belong. As a card-carrying introvert, I typically do not actively seek out conversation with strangers. But in TJ, I suddenly become chatty, inquisitive, dare I say…engaging. Trader Joe’s brings out the best in me. The grocery shopping bar has been raised so high by my TJ experiences, I rarely shop anywhere else. On the unhappy occasion I do venture out beyond Trader Joe's, the employees at other local markets seem sour and ill-informed by comparison. I feel I am inconveniencing them when patronizing their establishment, plus I have never once been asked what I am going to make with Farmshop olive loaf [for grilling], prosciutto, bruschetta sauce, burrata and balsamic glaze they are currently ringing up. [Try it —- so so good].

How does a brand create this kind of loyalty, where customers are willing, unpaid ambassadors? As with all great companies: it’s the people. Trader Joe’s employees create and carry the culture, and Trader Joe’s does not mess around with the hiring process. They seek out employees that have a sense of adventure, a passion for people and a healthy appetite. They are individually and collectively charged with maintaining the high standards Trader Joe’s has built over time. Over the course of the past month I have made it a point to ask crew members during my many visits to my local TJ’s to share the best part of working at Trader Joe’s. Every one of them replied the same: “my coworkers” and then would quickly whisper “wait…do you work for corporate?”

The other ingredient is that separates Trader Joe’s from other grocery store chains is that employees and customers see their corporate values in action each and every day. Research shows that organizations that embody and execute on their values and principles strengthen an employee’s connection to their work and the broader organization. When the values of the organization mirror their own, employees feel like they belong, and when we have a sense of belonging we are more productive, motivated and engaged. Harvard Business Review states that when employees feel like they belong they are 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential. Its is one thing to have your values painted on the break room wall, but quite another to have every crew member in every location live these values while at work, and quite possibly beyond.

TRADER JOE’S VALUES as posted on their website

  • Integrity

  • We are a product driven Company

  • At Trader Joe's we create WOW customer experience every day

  • No Bureaucracy

  • We are a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores

  • Kaizen

  • The Store is our Brand

I am a TJ outsider (but not in my heart!) and was previously unaware of what Trader Joe’s actual values were prior to this blog post, but in reading them I was not at all surprised. I have personally witnessed these values in action every time I have stepped into their store. All are important, all have helped them become the nearly $17 billion empire that they are, but the one that I keep coming back to is Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “change for the better or continuous improvement.” Trader Joe’s Chairman and CEO translates this to “every team member owes everyone else in the company a better job than the day before, than the year before”.

What could be possible if we ALL explored this principal in our professional AND personal lives? What if our employees, customers, families and friends knew what our values were and actually saw them in action? What if we committed to showing up in every aspect of our life just a little bit better than we did yesterday? Trader Joe’s is definitely on to something….

Now if only someone would do something about those parking lots!

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What a terrific post. You have captured the TJ mystique beautifully. I have never heard of "Kaizen" before. I am impressed. Thank you so much. I love learning from you!

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@l_oleary Thank you Lynn! I love learning from you too!


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I could not love this post more! So many lessons here. What would it be like if everyone knew there values and.... lived them? Wow!!!

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Thank you @Lori Kleiman!

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