Full Transcript: Trader Joes (inside) – Episode 4 – The Store Is Our Brand

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Trader Joes (inside) Episode 4: The Store Is Our Brand

It's fun. You know when people come in and give me hugs, you know, 30 people one day and, it's amazing. I've made new friends. You know, they're family. We have such an eclectic, diverse, clientele base. There's a million stories.

From the Trader Joe's mother ship in Monrovia, California.

Let's go Inside Trader Joe's. [MUSIC]

Welcome to Episode 4 of a five-part series that takes you inside Trader Joe's. I'm Tara Miller.

And I'm Matt Sloan. Later in Episode 4, we'll taste some wine, and we'll also visit Napa Valley, California, where we search for more great wines and great values. But first we'll explain one of the seven values that guides Trader Joe's. It says the store is our brand.

And I'm really excited for you to meet some of the customers and crew members in our stores. They really are some of the nicest people you could ever meet.

And if you've ever thought about applying to work at a Trader Joe's listen closely for some tips on how to ace the interview.

I'm Jon Basalone, President of Stores for Trader Joe's. I don't really use the title too much. But yeah, that's it.

But we're going to use it here. [MUSIC]

The store is our brand.

This store is our brand.

This store is our brand. People can't understand, "Why aren't you selling products online? How come you don't just sell wholesale to China? They want a bunch of your products. Why don't you just send truckloads and shiploads of products to other countries and make a bunch of money?" It's like, well because that's not what Trader Joe's is. You know, for us the store is our brand, and our products work the best when they're sold as part of this overall customer experience within the store, and so we're not, we're not ready to give that up. For us, the brand is too important, and the store is our brand.

More than 80 percent of the products we sell at Trader Joe's are private label. Keeping things in *our* label as opposed to the brand name label or a supplier's label helps us keep our costs low.

We don't collect slotting fees, we don't have the producers of the stuff that we sell, pay for privileged space or any space in our store.

And that happens everywhere else, by the way.

Totally normal grocery store stuff. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. And yet, there it is. There aren't a bunch of flat screen TVs and monitors and electronic signs, and why don't we have those things in our stores?

That's just not, that's not who we are.

Mitch Heeger, he started out as a part-time box boy, and now he's EVP of marketing and merchandising.

You know, when you walk into a store that has a big screen there, and you can see yourself on camera, you know the immediate feeling is someone's watching me and they must be watching me for a reason.

And just to be clear, we are not spying on you. We don't have access to your data at Trader Joe's because we don't *have* any data on you. Do you like cats? Do you buy a lot of chocolate bars, a lot of Belgian chocolate bars? We don't know that about you. We wouldn't share that information with someone if we had it. But we don't have it. That was weird, it's still…

No, it's actually kind of funny. [laughter]

We don't know what we don't know. That's a problem. [MUSIC]

God, you know we have so many great products, and they're so unique, and people come to our stores for that product. But what they really get excited about, and what they write in about, a lot of times is the interaction they have with the crew. A 93-year-old man wrote in about, he got to the checkstand, and they surprised him, it was his birthday, and they surprised him with a cake.

"Happy Birthday!"

Grocery store system, before,.

Anybody does…

But we do, and it's not something that we tell our crew to do. It's just something that we just do.

Oh, oh, you put it there, OK.

My name's Ray. I am purchasing level five colored bananas. They have green tips almost, almost ripe but not too ripe. I like to ripen them myself. And we're going to be making banana bread. There's about 100 bananas in there. [MUSIC] And I spoke to Josh, a sales employee, and I called him every day within the past three days, and he gave me an update on how the bananas are looking, when to come by, when to pick them up, so I really appreciate him. Thank you, Josh! Oh, he said "Ask for me, because I don't want anyone else to think you're crazy". So, I appreciate it! [Laughter].

Hi, my name is Rosario Medina. I've been with the company 23 years.

What's the part of being a Trader Joe's captain that you enjoy the most?

Talking to people. It's, it's, you know we're in the people business. We sell groceries, but we're in the people business. The absolute best part is, I get to come to work every day and talk to people, and smile, and meet new people, and it's… I'm really lucky. I'm really blessed.

Ever wonder what it's like to interview for a job at Trader Joe's?

You know when we do interviews, you know, I'll say, "So, what questions do you have for me? And they say, "Well what's… What do I not know coming in?" I said, "Well the work part, we could train you to do, that's easy. But it's all about the people. Just your ability to talk to people." We've got interview questionnaires, and I'll start with that. And then I tend to get off base a little bit. One of the best questions is "What do you like to do in your off time?" And then you'll see the passion, and then from there you could talk about food, and see how that works out.

You're not just trying to find someone who can fill a slot on your crew roster. You're interviewing a person to get to know a person because you're hiring a person, not a widget. [MUSIC]

Do you want to start, Tina, like just a little bit of your story as it relates to Trader Joe's. Like, what brought you here and why have, how long have you been here? And why have you stayed?

Ok. I've been with Trader Joe's for probably ten years. I have worked many jobs since I was 15, and this is, I just, like I see my other friends that don't work for the company, and the things they complain about, are how they don't have friends at work, and I'm just, I, and they don't get to drink wine at work, or any cheese! [Laughter] Yeah, this is, I fit in, right, I fit right in.

Same here, I worked for the company 12 years. Maybe like a couple of months into me starting here, they had me face paint. I'm artistic. Somewhat. And so for them to just ask me, "Why don't you start face painting some of these kids?" And I was like, wow, I could, yeah I could totally dig this. That's what helps. The fact that we could be ourselves. So, you know that translates with our energy, with the people, with our customers.

I could talk like myself, I could just be myself. I've never, ever felt out of place. [MUSIC]

Mrs. Schwartz was a great customer of ours in Sherman Oaks.

Dan Bain is chairman and CEO, but he still goes to Trader Joe's stores and helps out, just like any other crew member.

That day I was bagging groceries, and my name tag, which usually says crew member on it, but that day my name tag said Bagger First Class, and I was standing there bagging groceries with about a 20-year-old clerk who was running the cash register. And I still remember Mrs. Schwartz coming up to the front of the line as she starts having her items scanned by the guy, and she looks at my name tag and she reads aloud "Bagger First Class." I said,"Yes, Ma'am", and she said, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" "No ma'am."

She said, "How old are you?" I said, "I'm sixty-five." And she said, "Don't you aspire to anything greater?" And I said "No ma'am." And the checker was like, almost laughing out loud, and he's having a hard time controlling himself. But I checked her out, took her bags out to the car, and she tried to tip me, and I said, "No, you know, the guys in the store take pretty good care of me." But she promised me that, you know every day when I shaved I should look in the mirror and think what I might become. And so, I do that every day.

Thank you, Mrs. Schwartz. [LAUGHTER, MUSIC]

Once again we ask:

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe's product?

Ooh. I love your Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Those are always the go-to. [LAUGHTER]

The grass fed buffalo burgers. I love those.

The roasted chicken. I love that. They have a cauliflower in the frozen section. Oh, love the tomato soup.

Have you tried the tomato soup crackers?


They're called creamy tomato soup crackers. And it's like kind of having a bowl of tomato soup, but in a cracker.

My name is Chris Condit and I work with the wine. Here. Was that really your question, let's see. I am the category manager for wine for the company known as Trader Joe's.

We sell a lot of wine, and for a lot of people, Trader Joe's is synonymous with wine. It's that place that's always had wine, and historically wine has played an incredibly important part in our business, a real difference-making part of the store.

I'm going to give you the secret to Trader Joe's here.

So far they've all tasted like Tang, but not the good version, if there is one.

One thing that we do, that sets us apart, is we have a tasting panel. There's a lot of wine out there. There really are hundreds of thousands of wines available in the market. We carry about 500 in our stores. So, we're tasting every day, literally every day. [MUSIC]

Yes, I mean it's got the color, the acid.

… a little more savory than fruity…

Yeah, it's pretty good, though.

Where's that from again? And you're going to tell me…

"…it's Russian River. So it'd be Trader Joe's 2016 Russian River Petite Syrah. Everybody had a chance to try and think about it. Who'd like to see that come in? Excellent. And lastly…" [fade to MUSIC]

The source of the wine for our various private-label and controlled-label programs might change over time, but the wines are always going to be great, because we get to pick and choose. We don't have to carry every wine, we don't have to always repeat that exact same thing every year. If it's not good, we don't think it's great value, in all of the wine, we don't buy it. There's a lot of people that sort of famously make a fortune in other businesses and then they love wine. So, "I'm going to open a winery!" right? It's kind of like buying a boat. You just throw money at that hole in the water. And they, you know, they make their wine, they open a little winery, and they grow some grapes, and then they wait for the customers to show up. Customers don't always show up, for the customers already buy X, Y, Z,, and they weren't, you know, they weren't just waiting around for this wine to appear before they would start drinking wine, or buying wine. They need to clear out those tanks, they need to sell the wine at some point, no matter how wealthy the person is. It's always a bad business practice to not sell what you make. So in those situations we're oftentimes willing to help them at a lovely price for our customers. And so those, we call them hustle buys. Those wines come out in our stores at tremendous prices, and people are just like, you know, that's ridiculous. How do you do that? And we sell through it quickly, and then we're onto the next one.

What do you hear from customers?

Our customers oftentimes have a crew member that they learn to trust. Like, "I like what Sue likes. Is Sue here today? Because I'm looking for a recommendation for whatever, and every time Sue recommends that, I love it." Or you know, "I'm with Bill. Is Bill around? Because Bill's tastebuds totally match my tastebuds".

So you have a long history at Trader Joe's. Is there anything about how the Trader Joe's wine business works now that's new, or changing, or…

When I first started, almost 30 years ago, it was "this blend, that blend, so and so's wine". And then the fighting varietal thing happened and people were like, "Oh, I don't want this blend. I really just like the Merlot, or the Cabernet, or the Chardonnay," and it became all about varietal wines, and that really took over 25+ years ago. And it's kind of stayed that way, but what's happened is some varietals have have grown in favor, and some have completely fallen off the map. [MUSIC]

Merlot is one of the great easy-drinking, you know, most approachable varietal wines there is, and people hate Merlot. They just hate it. "I don't want Merlot! Merlot! Merlot is dead to me."

You sound like a jerk if you order Merlot.

Yeah, if you order Merlot, you don't know what you're doing. You're a complete loser.


People still love Merlot. The Merlot didn't just like, all of a sudden stop growing or something. It didn't go away. They just relabel it all as red blends.

I mean can we, can we really trace it all back to that movie, is it that one film's fault, really?

It seems that that's where it began, that that's when people decided, "Oh it's not cool to like Merlot anymore".

Well, you know, Paul Giamatti. So what's funny, Sideways is the movie, and he's the one that slammed Merlot, which is fine. It was actually a great movie. Little known fact is, at the end of the movie he's drinking a Bordeaux in that burger joint, right? That was a Merlot-based Bordeaux that he's drinking. So his favorite most prized wine was a Merlot. Anyway, life imitating art. [MUSIC fade to CAR IGNITION]

So now you've met Chris Condit. I'd like to introduce you to Pat Andrus.

I started in the company in 1969. I was 17. And when I was 25 I became a Captain of the store, and here I am a 65. I've got this job that I wanted all my life.

Pat's got a great job. He rides around places like the Napa Valley looking for great wines to bring to Trader Joe's.

Well the basic job today, is sourcing wine that will fit into one of our programs, the highest quality juice that I can possibly find, at great prices. This is my new baby.

This is? this is Napa Valley Chardonnay? I'd be interested in this.

Yeah, this is…

And you haven't sold this yet, have you?

I haven't sold it.

Oh darn. Are you telling me this is $6.99?

No I'm not. I promise you, it's…

Oh I heard that. This is the best $3.99 wine I've ever had. [LAUGHTER FADE TO MUSIC]

You're listening to a five-part series that takes you inside Trader Joe's. [MUSIC] If you like Trader Joe's, and you even liked this podcast, rate us on Apple podcast, or wherever it is you found this.

Oh,we'd like that. And here's what's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

Chicago is very situated, especially Chicago proper, by neighborhoods. So we do our best to make the stores a reflection of the neighborhood.

Yeah, you might see an end cap of prune juice in the Florida market… [Laughter] …before you're going to see that on the Chicago market.

The folks that come here they are, they're us. They are working, they are retired, they have grandkids, they have aunts, uncles. They have baby brothers and sisters, they have dogs and cats. They're just like all of us. They just happen to need some assistance.

I think our stores probably are all in the range of sharing from $600,000, $700,000 a year, to over a million dollars with their local communities.

This place is a blessing to my home.

We started this podcast with the goal of answering some of the questions we often hear about Trader Joe's.

I love you, but what's with the parking lot? [LAUGHTER]

You know, people will ask all the time, "When do I get a Trader Joe's in my town?" and I said, "isn't your town like two miles from a Trader Joe's?" "Oh, yes, that's not, yeah, it's not close enough. We need, we need our own."

God, there have been a number of surprises…

…that we thought would work, but didn't.

Yeah. [Laughter]

We used to have an eggplant wrap, the fresh one, and I would eat that constantly. It went away, I was pretty sad.

I was really into that almond Jalapeno dip.

We're targeting to open 30 to 35 stores a year.

We could have a thousand stores, but what's most important to us is that we have a thousand Trader Joe's stores.

That's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

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