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Becoming Trader Joe - Joe Coulombe / Patty Civalleri


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This was entertaining and had all sorts of interesting nuggets on how Trader Joe's came to be and the day to day business of retailing, it was much more shaped by regulation than I had known.  Interesting that a major factor for him selling it too early was a fear of a tax law change getting rid of the lower rate for long term capital gains at a time when income tax rates were particularly punitive.

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Just read this recently also. I enjoyed it but felt he bounced around a little, although it was mostly chronological. As you mention was interesting hearing him talking about operating in that time period, inflation/tax rates both factors that shaped decision making in a way that maybe hasn’t been present since. I enjoyed learning about his strategy

  • Product differentiation and private labeling- retail is buying in wholesale selling in pieces. Made sure each product had a competitive differentiation and that it wouldn’t be found elsewhere. These single products have people coming back. Try the chili garlic crunch if you haven’t!
  • maximizing sales/sqft, sales per cubic inch (hadn’t heard that one before!!) and driving operating leverage with super high volume stores - easy to say but he truly demonstrated it - even today I notice how much more efficient it is to move through a TJs vs Harris teeter and how I walk away feeling like I got much more value / $ spent
  •  paying, treating and training employees well - again easy to say but he rarely had layoffs and paid above market. Patton quote “my greatest danger is not that my enemy knows my plans it’s that my own team doesn’t” - led to engaged team members who were also great sales people - I find they’re always friendly and extremely knowledgeable / willing to discuss different products
  • Knew his demographic “underpaid over educated” and connected with them well 
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  • 6 months later...

I just finished this on audiobook and I really enjoyed it.  Retail is a tough business and I really like shopping at Trader Joe's so I was really interested to hear the whole story.  Unfortunately shortly after he wrote this book, he passed away.  He had a much different approach to his stores than Sam Walton (high volume location vs small rural areas with no competition) but I am impressed with how both of them were always experimenting with new ideas and not afraid to discard one when it didn't work.  Too often we get the myth of the stubborn entrepreneur who stuck to his guns about his crazy idea no matter how bad things got and made it work.  They never tell you about those other people who stuck to their ideas right up to the steps of the bankruptcy court.  He also did it by paying his employees well, listening to their feedback and being generous with employee ownership.  A great read! 

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  • Parsad changed the title to Becoming Trader Joe - Joe Coulombe / Patty Civalleri

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