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Trader Joe’s: Fortune in Monrovia

One of the country’s biggest and hottest success stories is Trader Joe’s. The offbeat store with friendly employees in Hawai’ian aloha shirts and eclectic food stuff that you can’t find anyplace else has 344 stores in 25 states with sales of $8 billion, according to a new Fortune magazine feature story on the chain based on two months of research.


You may not know that Trader Joe’s is based in the small town of Arcadia neighbor Monrovia. It would not be surprising if you didn’t — there are no signs with the company’s name or logo at headquarters. Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany’s Albrecht family, which owns the Aldi Nord supermarket empire (a different branch of the family controls the Aldi grocery chain in the U.S.). Trader Joe’s and CEO Dan Bane, a 1969 USC grad who joined Trader Joe’s in 1998 and became CEO in 2001, do not talk with the media about business operations, which could easily triple in size in the coming years.

There are Trader Joe’s outlets all around us in San Gabriel, Pasadena, and Monrovia (but nothing in Arcadia – what’s up with that?). New stores will open this year in places as disparate as Agoura Hills, Ca., New York, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Trader Joe’s is a privately held company with no debt, and sales that rank alongside Fortune 500 grocer Whole Foods and exceed those of Bed Bath & Beyond, No. 314 on the Fortune 500 list. It funds all growth from its own money. It pays on time and doesn’t tack on charges to cover advertising, couponing, or slotting fees that traditional supermarkets charge suppliers to get their products onto the shelves.

The original “Joe,” Joe Coulombe, now 80, opened the first Trader Joe’s 43 years ago in Pasadena to serve a sophisticated consumer on a budget. He changed the name of the former Pronto Markets to Trader Joe’s to evoke images of the South Seas. Although it was initially dominated by convenience store foods, at one time his shop boasted the world’s largest assortment of California wine. More recently it generated great awareness for the $1.99 Charles Shaw wine label, better known as “Two-Buck Chuck.” It was in the 1970s that Coulombe added health food. By the late 1970s there were 20 Trader Joe’s locations. In 1979, Coulombe sold his company to German grocery mogul Theo Albrecht, who died in July at age 88.

Read the entire fascinating story of Trader Joe’s business operation and customer practices here at CNNmoney.com.

— By Scott Hettrick

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