Trader Joe’s founder, a hero for many shoppers, dies at the age of 89

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Joel C. Bautista | The Ticker

Farah Javed

Coulombe detailed how he was inspired to create the grocery store chain in a 2014 interview with The Los Angeles Times. 

A few years after graduating from Stanford University, he was hired to create a chain of stores called Pronto, which he soon purchased. 

At this same time, he had read an article from Scientific American stating that out of “all people qualified to go to college, 60% were going.” 

Thus, when Coulombe opened his first shop in Pasadena, his target market consisted of college students that wanted healthy options at affordable prices. 

He sought to make grocery shopping a fun activity, while appealing to the increasingly educated public. 

According to CNN, in order to meet his market’s needs, Coulombe imported products that were not common in grocery stores at the time, such as granola, dried mangos and Angus beef chili. 

To cut costs, he bought directly from suppliers, eliminating any middle man who could increase rates. 

He also introduced a nautical theme to his store to make it stand out from traditional grocery stores. 

Employees wore Hawaiian shirts and were referred to as “captains and mates.” 

His products also had unusual names or were named after his children, thus leaving a personal touch not seen in other stores.

As his company thrived over the years, he eventually sold Trader Joe’s to the German company Aldi but remained CEO until 1988. 

His efforts proved to be fruitful, as Trader Joe’s has amassed a large following across social media platforms. 

He is also praised for making it possible to have affordable alternative to stores like Whole Foods Market Inc.

Trader Joe’s employees are kept appeased as well, according to Business Insider. 

With rotated work schedules and responsibilities, no employee has to work the graveyard shift or come very early to open the shop. 

Employees also are free to speak to customers however they please, which fosters a sense of freedom. 

The chain’s website states that in terms of benefits, “Trader Joe’s currently contributes 10% of annual salary to eligible Crew Members, and the plan allows Crew to save pre-tax dollars towards their own retirement.” Employees are also given paid leave.

Coulombe is being remembered as not only a successful entrepreneur and fair boss, but a visionary as well. 

“Joe was the perfect person at the right time for Trader Joe’s,” Trader Joe’s current CEO Dan Bane said in a statement when the news was announced. 

“He was a brilliant thinker with a mesmerizing personality that simply galvanized all with whom he worked,” Bane added.

He was not only our founder, he was our first spokesperson. He starred in captivating radio ads for years, always signing off with his unique, ‘thanks for listening.'”

In the midst of his success, Coulombe was able to build a niche store into a massive, beloved grocery chain. 

At the same time, he managed to balance maintaining a family as well as his brand.

“He wanted to make sure whatever was sold in our store was of good value,” Coulombe’s son, Joe Coulombe II, said to The Associated Press. 

“He always did lots of taste tests. My sisters and I remember him bringing home all kinds of things for us to try,” he added.

“At his offices he had practically daily tastings of new products. Always the aim was to provide
good food and good value to people.”

Now after his passing, the country mourns the loss of Coulombe, and raises a glass of Two Buck Chuck wine in his honor.