A Good Friend in Joe.

At times, brand consultants manage intangible company assets to achieve certain tangible results. Sometimes, our friendships have a similar attribute. Kind of like how a good friend not only says that they will “be there” for you, but also shows up in a time of need.

Trader Joe’s is a brand that talks the talk and walks the walk. Their staff is a Crew. Like on a ship. With Mates, or supervisors, and Captains, or store managers, included. But instead of being responsible for a single or a few tasks, like manning the register or stocking the aisles, the company trains its Crew to perform all of the tasks necessary to keep the market running smoothly and focused on selling quality products. Among other things, there is absolutely no sense of bureaucracy. And by and large, the declarations on the company website are consistently validated by the actions of the employees. At least that’s the general sense of the experience.

Trader Joe’s trains their employees to “engage with customers” and “offer delight” via their products. That means they equip their employees with tools to communicate effectively with other people, which is a valuable skill for their job at Trader Joe’s, as well as many other jobs. But it’s more than a job skill. We could argue that it’s a life skill. Furthermore, offering delight, or being responsible for creating a pleasant shopping experience, is equally valuable.

Recently, a young woman rung me up at the cash register. She asked me about my family. She mentioned she’d seen us from time to time and remembers helping us find the organic butternut squash. Some Crew members share their own personal experiences with the products in your shopping cart. Others may go as far as suggesting recipe recommendations for a potentially more enjoyable gastronomic experience. On a rainy day, you might find a Crew member waiting outside with an umbrella, and a smile on their face, assisting people with their bags of groceries to their cars. The genuinely pleasant disposition of the Crew is matched by the small, yet carefully thought out details throughout the store. This includes things like the Fearless Flyer, the handmade art decorating the walls, and the clever way in which they try to inspire shoppers through their product labels. Customer engagement beyond the mandatory “did you find what you were looking for” and “have a nice day” is not only encouraged at Trader Joe’s, it’s a cultural norm.

Carefully aligning patterns of organizational behavior with the company mission and values, and implementing that coherently is related to business strategy, operations, human resources, and more. But it’s also related to branding. It has to do with the dialogue being generated by the supermarket with its customers, including their Crew. It has to do with the management of resources, which in this instance are being deployed to partake in a conversation that is unique, authentic, and true.

Trader Joe’s seems to have struck a balance between the quality of its products and their cost, something that is not necessarily new with food chains around the world. Remarkably, however, the brand has also achieved reliability and loyalty. Kind of like a good friend.


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