The Factor That Makes Trader Joe's Special, According To Founder Joe Coulombe

Visiting Trader Joe's isn't quite like shopping at other markets — and neither is working there. From hearing chiming noises in the middle of the store (Yes, the TJ's bells actually have a meaning) to wearing brightly colored Hawaiian shirts while stocking displays, the environment at Trader Joe's certainly makes for a unique working experience. And yet, Trader Joe's founder Joe Coulombe told the Los Angeles Times that what makes the store special has less to do with the products sold or the ambience within, and more to do with the people working in each location.

Trader Joe's keeps its staff engaged and active during shifts by assigning a variety of tasks, from cleaning to making hand-painted signs, and encouraging individuals to express their own personalities while at work, as one crew member told Money. According to Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane, employees are hired more for their friendly demeanors than for past work histories. That's largely because they're encouraged to interact with shoppers and demonstrate friendly customer service and teamwork. For those up to the task, the rewards are plenty.

High pay sets TJ's apart more than anything else

According to Coulombe himself, "The fundamental difference between Trader Joe's and all other retailers is the income level of employees" (via Los Angeles Times). Indeed, the chain pays employees "significantly more than most grocery stores," as one former crew member told Winsight Grocery Business. Plus, with a percentage of each employee's salary dedicated to their retirement fund, comprehensive health benefits, product discounts, the opportunity to receive raises twice a year, and potential promotions within teams, Trader Joe's employees have plenty of perks to get excited about.

Coulombe explained that the decision to treat employees well was always intentional. In 1967, the company paid full-time employees the median family income for the state of California. As the median family income continued to rise, Trader Joe's maintained that commitment. Coulombe estimated in 2014 that the pay clocked in around $59,000, with figures varying by state. This employee-focused strategy has paid off in more ways than one, as Trader Joe's has some of the most devoted shoppers in the industry.