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3 Trader Joe's Business Strategies Your Company Desperately Needs to Emulate

3 Trader Joe's Business Strategies Your Company Desperately Needs to Emulate

While you can’t start offering your customers Candy Cane Joe-Joes, there’s nothing to keep you from copying these three winning TJ’s strategies.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Does Trader Joe’s hire marketers or magicians? After all, these folks made violet-tinted food hip again, which seemed unlikely after Heinz’s early 2000s purple ketchup fiasco.

Still, the grocery store chain somehow led consumers to rave about a frozen purple-root vegetable puree. When this yam-flavored ice cream hit the chain’s freezer cases this year, it caused an uproar (in a good way).

Maybe an accomlishment like this is part and parcel of the company’s unconventional operations. One might think, “It’s Trader Joe’s; of course it could turn an ube dessert into an über treat.” Trader Joe’s is the most beloved grocery retailer in the United States, after all.

So, what’s the brand’s secret? Surprisingly, it isn’t nearly as mind-blowing as the company’s Filipino frozen-food offering. Trader Joe’s simply prioritizes customers without fail — that’s it! To be sure, most companies would argue that they too elevate their patrons.  Yet most businesses are likely not taking this as far as Trader Joe’s does.

Consider that Trader Joe’s spends most of its marketing budget on product samples and collects zero buyer data. Zilch. No special card member swipes; nary a pinch of personal information. Instead, all Trader Joe’s employees live by a “Do better than the day before” principle that would shake most MBA grads to the core.

The company actually expects employees to enable close customer connections rather than rely on data and research. One store went so far as to stock a certain soy ice-cream cookie simply because a single shopper requested it.

Related: 10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service

While you might not be willing to say no to all traditional marketing for your business or offer product samples left and right, you can still borrow a page on how to be truly customer-centric from Trader Joe’s quirky-turkey marketing playbook. Start with these strategic measures:

1. Supercharge employees’ product knowledge.

From crew members to captains, everyone at Trader’s Joe’s is well-trained on what’s on the shelves at its stores. This encourages employees to showcase their expertise. It also cuts down on customer friction points, according to Joe Schultz, vice president of sales at retail design and intelligence provider Harbor Retail. “When employees truly know their stuff and represent the brand and product well, they will be able to offer advice to customers — and the insight they provide could close the sale,” Schultz has explaned in Retail Touch Points. “They’re building strong relationships, too.”

Not in retail? Your personnel can still give your company a boost by being thoroughly versed in your business — not to mention highly trained as marketing and sales resources. Facilitate learning across the board, then encourage your team members to share their business wisdom through blog posts, videos, tweets, images and guest posts.

Related: Why Your Business Should Be More Like Trader Joe’s

2. Concentrate on producing delight.

Trader Joe’s isn’t in business just to get more and more customers. Rather, the company’s leaders spend a good deal of their resources on increasing current customers’ average spend per visit. In this way, the seller-buyer relationship gets elevated, opening the door for Disney-level moments of delight between workers and guests. For instance, Trader Joe’s employees will happily let customers sample to their heart’s content. That zero-stinginess policy fosters stronger shopper retention.

Alex McEachern, head of marketing at Smile.io, a loyalty and rewards app for Shopify stores, has suggested that companies find harmony between wooing and keeping their customers. As McEachern noted on the Shopify blog, “Acquisition creates a foundation of customers, while your retention strategy is how you build customer relationships and maximize revenue for each one.” Figure out how to bowl consumers over by giving them a bit more than they expect.”

3. Call a halt to breakneck scaling.

Trader Joe’s could set up a supermarket in just about any city. Yet corporate leaders plan to open only about three dozen stores a year for the foreseeable future. It’s a tortoise-versus-hare philosophy that works in the company’s favor. Not only does having fewer Trader Joe’s stores build up the brand’s mystique, but it also avoids diluting the chain’s charm. In addition, the company can pay employees well and staff stores (or even overstaff stores) as needed.

Certainly, Trader Joe’s isn’t alone in its concept of slow and steady growth. Baboon, an urban accessories producer riding a wave of hot interest, has no plans to go big or get mixed up in too much venture capital red tape. As CEO Andy Person told Modern Retail, “We don’t want to put ourselves in a corner at a valuation level where it hinders the business we can create.” Go back to your business plans, and analyze whether less aggressive physical saturation could help drive customer zeal.

Related: The Real ROI Of Being Customer-Centric

Trader Joe’s has been an anomaly and a revelation to marketers, business analysts and the public. Its unorthodox operations prove you don’t have to take the same path as everyone else to achieve tremendous success. You do, however, have to get comfortable with being the most customer-first brand on the block. So, use your marketing magic wisely, and you can get your customers excited about most anything

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