Upbeat employees play a huge role in Trader Joe’s brand

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Upbeat employees play a huge role in Trader Joe’s brand

By Carolyn Schierhorn - 02/06/2018

The other day I noticed this headline on Time.com/Money — “What It’s REALLY Like to Work at Trader Joe’s, According to Former Employees” — and immediately assumed the article would be some sort of exposé, that the seemingly happy and often charming associates who work for this beloved-by-many retailer would be unmasked as amazing actors. Then I read the piece

The article quotes two former employees, one who raves about her positive experiences as a Trader Joe’s crew member and one whose mild criticism of the chain reveals more about his own lack of initiative in a retail setting.  

The woman who was interviewed immigrated to the United States 14 years ago from the Czech Republic and held all sorts of jobs, from janitorial to landscaping, before beginning her five-year stint at a Trader Joe’s on Cape Cod.

“I have not one bad thing to say about it,” she tells Money magazine “Honestly it’s been like the only job in America, and I’ve worked a lot of jobs, where I felt appreciated and supported.” She even continued to work for Trader Joe’s part-time for a while after beginning her nursing career.

In contrast, the man, who used to work at a Manhattan Trader Joe’s, says he grew tired of “smiling too much” and found the camaraderie among colleagues — who often become roommates, date or even get married, as he puts it — excessive and somewhat stifling because he didn’t want his life to revolve around work.

“It can be easy to get swept up in the company culture,” he is quoted as saying.

Even more telling is his remark a bit later in the article: “You can’t have too many independent ideas for improvement, unless you want to become manager.” This is clearly a guy who views retail as just a job, who probably considered the opportunities for advancement at Trader Joe’s to be obstacles to his indifference.

Both of these individuals, however, offer only positive comments about the chain’s generous compensation and benefits package. As the article notes near the end, “the company is committed to promoting from within its ranks, and captains [store managers] can make around $100,000 a year.”

Trader Joe’s is revered for its delicious, quirky, affordable on-trend products, 90 percent of which are private brands. Indeed, many grocery industry experts have commented on the chain’s cult-like following. But the retailer’s success is not due to awesome products alone. Customers enjoy shopping at Trader Joe’s, and the upbeat, friendly and helpful crew members are a huge part of that experience. There are many lessons to be learned from how the Monrovia, Calif.-based chain motivates and rewards its associates, even if the occasional employee is put off by the retailer’s rah-rah team spirit and customer service intensity.  

In his article “Engaged Employees Key to Establishing ‘Emotional Connection’ With Customers,” Store Brands Editor-in-Chief Larry Aylward notes that “the customer experience is an intangible store brand that can do wonders for a retailer’s image.” 

At Trader Joe’s, the top draw may not be Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken, but rather the infectious smiles of a genuinely contented crew.

Schierhorn, the managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected]

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