Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe manages to combine a number of different labor concepts into his explanation of what makes his grocery stores successful:
You opened the first Trader Joe’s in 1967. What made it different?
The fundamental difference between Trader Joe’s and all other retailers is the income level of employees. I said the average full-time employee will make median family income for California. In those days that was about $7,000. Median family income soared, but we stayed with it, and today [Trader Joe’s stores pay] whatever it is, $58,000, $59,000. That will vary state by state. And the benefits are rich — medical plans, extended in recent years to part-time employees.
What I keep telling people [is] forget about the merchandise; it’s the quality of the people in the stores. [At Trader Joe’s the] tenure is typically 35 years. I call them the roach motels: They check in and they don’t check out. Some of the people I hired in the 1960s [are] finally retiring. We also made a real effort to hire women managers. So it’s the quality of the people and new ideas. This was not a one-man show.
I will say this: The Pill disrupted my supply of manpower. Once [it] kicked in, there weren’t so many forced marriages where the guy had to go to work!