Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on February 24th, 2015

John Shields: How he built Trader Joe's into a giant grocery store chain.

John Shields
John Shields  

John's close friend, Joe Coulombe founded what became Trader Joe's in 1958 as a convenience store chain similar to 7-Eleven stores today.

Joe tried many products in his stores including guns and records and anything else he thought the public might want, keeping only what sold.

30 years later, Trader Joe's had grown into 27 Southern California stores that by trial and error had become a gourmet shop, discount warehouse, provider of one of a kind seasonal products and other enticements that attracted numerous customers.

Employees dressed not in drab formal attire but in Hawaiian shirts and casual pants, as did the managers and everyone cordially mingled with the customers.

Meanwhile as Trader Joe's grew, John Shields became a top retailer at Macy's and later at Mervyn's department stores.

Always bold in his actions, Joe took a radical step. To grow Trader Joe's much faster, on January 1st, 1989 he named John the CEO and stepped aside.

Joe had made an ideal choice.

John had a quick sense of humor and at Trader Joe's he dressed casually, had no secretary and operated from a broom closest sized office, as he spent most of his time in the stores listening to employees and customers.

And John took Trader Joe's to the next stage.

He standardized and expanded the colorful Hawaiian style layout of the stores, and built a powerful management team and a strong training program.

Then John took his own radical action.

At great risk to the company and to his career, John took Trader Joe's nationwide.

He further compounded that risk by doing something that violated classic marketing rules.

Instead of adapting Trader Joe's stores to local customs, John sent California personnel to train all recruits in how to run a customer oriented, hang loose, and have fun California style operation.

Recruits had to be positive, upbeat people, as they are in Trader Joe's California stores. John even interviewed some of them himself, for these people were crucial to Trader Joe's success.

Quirky as this approach was, it worked. John retired in 2001 but Trader Joe's has kept those practices and has thrived.

Today, Trader Joe's has 418 stores, sales estimated at $11.3 billion and its success is a model for retailers everywhere.

But Trader Joe's is also a model for food retailers in compassionate donations. To help relieve hunger, in 2014 it donated nearly $300 million in food products to food banks, and those donations are made seven days a week.

Joe and John have left mankind with a remarkable legacy, one of business success but also the greatest of all forms of success, a helping hand to others in need.

Success Tip of the Week: Quirky is good. If you have a quirky idea, give it a try and you too may create a successful company.

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: In 2014, John passed away at age 82. To learn more about him, see NYTimes.com and LATimes.com. To visit Trader Joe's website http://www.traderjoes.com/

In the next KazanToday: A woman who became a successful writer despite her many critics.

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