The Astonishing Tenure at Trader Joe’s
Every other week, we drive from the beach to make our Trader Joe’s run. Saturday was the date. As we neared our favorite cashier, she flashed her signature grin and called out, “Hi, it’s so good to see you!”
“Well sister, it’s good to see you as well!” I developed a conspiratorial tone and said, “I’m a writer and have been examining high-performance cultures. Is it true that Trader’s has an average longevity of 18 years?”
“Those are the young people. I’ve been here for twenty years.”
“You love it?”
“I love working here.”
“What is so special about the place?”
Her smile widened,
“It’s like this. Everyone takes care of everyone else. Everyone pitches in. Our General Manager doesn’t pull rank on us. The other day, I came in and he was scrubbing the bathroom clean. He did it because he got here first. You know, when everyone works at the same level, it’s easier to be a team”
This down-to-earth, ego-free approach works. The generosity they extend to their workers cascades directly out to the customers. In their onboarding process, Trader’s makes it clear their, “Generous purpose is to listen and to carefully respond to the needs of those they serve.”
Trader Joe’s power of building a culture that is Democratic and kind was recently captured in an article from Spoon University by Katherine Baker. She earned a graduate degree in behavioral science and got a good job in the field only to discover it made her feel stressed out and emotional all of the time. She felt she had lost the game with the “adulting thing.” She took a part-time job at Trader Joe’s to catch up on student debt. Soon it was a full-time gig.
One night, her sister asked if she liked her job at Traders. Surprised with herself she responded, “I think I do.” It was a turning point.
She shares, “But this lesson wasn’t Trader Joe’s specific – it was something bigger. I realized I need to chase things that matter to me, things I’m passionate about. I ended finally coming to terms that I didn’t want to go to med school, and that I wanted to pursue nutrition and food science (which I am working on now), and I like to think that working at Trader Joe’s helped me see the light and value in doing things that you enjoy.
I guess what I’m saying is that I found myself while mopping floors, preparing hummus samples, and putting jars of cookie butter on the shelf. I remember who I was, got in touch with what I wanted in life, and learned how effing important it is to follow your dreams – or at the very least, find the things in life that make you happy and unapologetically pursue them.”
About three hundred yards from our home is the neighborhood Vons. The store looks out on the Pacific Ocean. Many of the cashiers don’t look you in the eye because they are in an unhappy trance. The mood is so thoroughly “it’s just a job” that I sometimes come home with the beginnings of a facial tick. On Yelp, one consumer said the employees of this store, “should be on suicide watch.” But despite the fact we can walk to the market, for every dollar we spend at Vons, ten dollars goes to Gelsons or Trader Joes. We drive five and ten miles to buy most of our groceries because we not only want quality food, we want a nice consumer experience. Organizations that don’t get this sentence themselves to being another commodity.
Grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Publix, one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work employers prove that culture, especially Democratic cultures are not limited to white collar tech. Great employers benefit all of us and they can even become environments where someone can go to reclaim his or her life.
Brought to you by David Harder – Founder & President, Inspired Work, Inc.