In 1967 in Pasadena California, Joseph Coulombe invented a retail concept called Trader Joe’s. In 1979, he sold the company to the Germany-based Aldo Nord. He died recently at the age of 89 leaving more than 500 stores in the U.S. with his impression and legacy of what grocery retailing was all about.
In the late sixties, Coulombe decided that in order to compete, he had to do something different. He believed that there was a demographic in the country that had more education than money, and that he could appeal to an increasing globalism of outlook that would make them more interested in specialty foods and wines that they couldn’t get elsewhere.
In 2011, he told the LA newspaper that he envisioned the stores being “for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists.”
He liked to have products that nobody else had. He created a treasure-hunt atmosphere where once it was sold-out it wasn’t being replenished. Calling this the strategy of “discontinuity” – when great products ran out at their stores, they ran out, and they are replaced by something new (Costco is famous for following this strategy). He also believed in paying people well and provide outstanding and memorable customer service.
Finally, he wanted to create an atmosphere of fun and affordability (no Whole Foods pay check thinking here). His legacy in retail started with one store and grew to one of the most trail blazer grocers in the U.S.