Joe Coulombe, a struggling comfort retailer proprietor in Los Angeles, determined in 1967 to open a grocery chain to enchantment to the small however rising quantity of well-educated, well-traveled shoppers that mainstream supermarkets have been ignoring.
Coulombe acknowledged that worldwide journey was about to blow up because of the new Boeing 747 hitting the market. For the title of his new retailer, Coulombe landed on Trader Joe’s to evoke unique photos of the South Seas. The title was impressed by Trader Vic’s, a preferred Tiki Bar restaurant began in California.
But it caught, and the first Trader Joe’s opened in Pasadena, California, in 1967. The location was very best for his new goal buyer, surrounded by faculty campuses, a hospital and huge engineering companies.
The first Trader Joe’s retailer had a nautical theme with marine artifacts together with a ship’s bell, fish netting and half of a rowboat. The take a look at counter was an island with a roof. Employees wore Polynesian shirts and Bermuda shorts. The supervisor was known as captain and the assistant was first mate. And lilting Hawaiian music performed over the loudspeakers.
But the merchandise regarded nothing like what you’d discover at a Trader Joe’s immediately.
The authentic retailer had a typical comfort store assortment of groceries, together with discounted magazines, books, socks and hosiery, data and photograph ending. The huge draw, nevertheless, was the alcohol choice.
California had Fair Trade legal guidelines on alcohol, so producers set minimal costs and it was unlawful to go beneath them. Since Coulombe could not compete by providing low costs, he acknowledged he needed to provide all kinds to face out.
The first Trader Joe’s boasted of having the world’s largest assortment of alcohol — 100 manufacturers of Scotch, 50 manufacturers of bourbon and gin and 14 sorts of tequila.
Coulombe ultimately discovered a loophole in California’s Fair Trade legal guidelines that allowed his store to import high-end French wine and promote it for decrease costs than rivals, serving to him attain wine connoisseurs. (It wouldn’t be till years later that Trader Joe’s launched its well-known $1.99 Charles Shaw wine, generally known as “Two-Buck Chuck.”)
By the early Seventies, Coulombe seized on the rising well being meals motion, believing it might enchantment to the similar kind of clients who additionally occurred to be wine connoisseurs.
“His concepts on advertising groceries got here from his advertising of wine,” Benjamin Lorr mentioned.
Trader Joe’s first private-label product was granola, and then it began including recent squeezed orange juice, nutritional vitamins, nuts and dried meals and cheese. At one level, Trader Joe’s was the largest US importer of brie.
Coulombe turned immersed in the well being meals tradition in Berkeley and San Francisco.
“I employed a younger hippie lady out of the University of California at Santa Cruz to show us the lingo,” he mentioned.
Brandenburg Brownies and Sir Issac Newtons
In 1977, Coulombe remade Trader Joe’s once more — setting it on a path that may be extra acquainted to immediately’s clients.
“As we advanced Trader Joe’s, its biggest departure from the norm wasn’t its measurement or its decor,” Coulombe mentioned. “It was our dedication to product information, one thing which was completely overseas to the mass-merchant tradition, and our turning our backs to branded merchandise.”
The firm even positioned its private-label names and branding to attach with well-educated consumers — Brandenburg Brownies and Sir Issac Newtons, for instance — Coulombe mentioned.
Creating sturdy private-label choices to rival nationwide manufacturers can be one of his legacies in the grocery store business, mentioned Lorr. “That modified the stability of the grocery business. Suddenly, grocers are empowered in a approach they weren’t.”
But Coulombe resisted opening up dozens of new shops.
The handful of shops Coulombe did open have been in Southern California, which match the demographic profile he was in search of — lecturers, musicians, journalists and different professionals.
Aldi executives would journey from Germany to go to Trader Joe’s about yearly, however they took a hands-off method to overseeing the rising chain.
By the time Coulombe stepped down as chief govt in 1988, Trader Joe’s had 27 California shops and an estimated $150 million in gross sales.
“My successors at Trader Joe’s have taken a 30-store chain nationwide with outstanding adherence to the fundamental ideas we began out with,” Coulombe mentioned in 2010.