Joe Coulombe started Trader Joe’s out of a nondescript location in Pasadena, California, in 1958. Noting that more Americans were traveling and enjoying the good life, Coulombe created his stores with a tropical theme in a South Seas motif. Little did he know that the chain would grow to more than 500 stores and revolutionize the U.S. food business.
In 1979, a German named Theo Albrecht bought Trader Joe’s with ambitions to grow the chain nationwide. And that’s where this story really begins.
Albrecht’s family is known for its ownership of Aldi, a discount grocery chain with 10,000 stores in 20 countries. Aldi’s format is about scale and low prices, and its stores lack much in the way of branding and identity. So, it’s unusual that the Albrechts would grow Trader Joe’s into one of America’s most trusted brands. It has a cult following because of its quirky products, low prices, and adventurous customer experience.
So how did Trader Joe’s build such a following? At the root of its success is a unique culture. Glassdoor rates Trader Joe’s 70th in the Best Places to Work report in 2018, which is remarkable given the competition: a glut of notable technology companies and consulting firms such as Google and McKinsey.