Trader Joes – Finally!

By Anita Garner

Our little town is one of a string of small towns in this part of Northern California that together have finally come up with the magic formula to cause a Trader Joe’s to open  nearby.  That statement, of course, has nothing to do with the way these deals really happen.   There was intense lobbying from both sides and parking studies and all kinds of rigmarole involved, but we TJ’s fans don’t care, just so the danged store opens as planned in August.

A friend of mine worked in development for a nearby city that pined for its own Trader Joe’s.  The board she reported to kept asking her, “Can’t you get us a Trader Joe’s?” and since she’d tried many times, she knew the answer, which was “We don’t fit their expansion profile.”

Yet many in my community didn’t want the store, complained about what it will do to traffic patterns, etc.  While checking online to find the actual opening date, I encountered a website loaded with comments for and against TJ’s coming to this area, with some commenters asking, “What’s the big deal?  It’s  just another grocery store.”

Answers are plentiful at a TJ’s fan site.  Yes, here’s a grocery store with its own fan site, devoted solely to loving all things Trader Joe’s.

I don’t know why I feel the way I do about them. When I lived near one of the stores in Southern California, I wasn’t there every week, and it’s true they don’t always have the same things in stock trip after trip.  If that’s what you require from your grocery store, you and TJ’s may not be a match.

A shopping trip to Trader’s is much more of a grab bag (awful wordplay – I apologize) where we make a list based on ads (their Fearless Flyer and their radio ads are fun) or our particular needs, and then end up wandering the aisles finding cleverly packaged, well-displayed stuff we never knew we wanted.  Yes, it’s the way many grocery stores entice us, but with TJ’s distinctly, deceptively laid-back spirit.

While all the comments online about our new store aren’t positive, many of them express the same kind of odd loyalty I feel toward this company.  Without blinders, with full knowledge that much of their success is in the marketing of their “brand”  (and their store brands) still I have never been disappointed with their merchandise and certainly not with the entire shopping experience.

Parking?  That’s another subject for another time. The opening of a Trader’s will turn a too-small lot into an exercise in patience.

But for now, I’m glad they’ve overcome all hurdles tossed at them and I’m happy the welcome mat is out.   I’ll be in one of those cars looking for a parking spot.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer

Anticipating the next Fearless Flyer!

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I miss receiving Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer in the mail. I live in a small town in northern California a bit too far away from my nearest Trader Joe’s. Once in a while I make a trip to the nearest store, but living outside their neighborhood means they don’t mail me their periodic “Fearless Flyer.” After spending decades living close to Trader’s, this has been a serious adjustment. Here’s how the company describes their mailer:

“The Fearless Flyer has been likened to a cross between Consumer Reports and Mad Magazine. We’re not sure who said that, but we think they pretty much got it right. The Fearless Flyer is kind of like a newsletter, a catalog and a bit of a comic book all at the same time. It’s our chance to give you loads of interesting (hopefully) information about our products. And along the way, we like to toss in some witty (we try) tidbits and even a few old-fashioned cartoons.” Trader Joe’s ® 2008

There’s a rumor that a new store will open next year within five minutes of my house. The very best part is that  I will be back on the Fearless Flyer mailing list.

I can skip a New Year’s celebration because a nearby Trader’s is gift enough to start the year. Sounding a bit over the top, you think? Not at all. I like food. I like to cook. I like saving money on what I cook.

I also enjoy good writing and respect smart marketing. I spent years working in advertising and Trader’s gets five stars from me in all those areas. I’ve seldom (if ever) seen a case of marketing strategy so well matched with in-store follow-through, seldom have I seen a case of advertising that is this clever and straightforward and entertaining and – yes – absolutely true.

Trader’s print and radio ads are fun all by themselves.

If you don’t yet know about Trader Joe’s, I hope one will soon open in your area, because after it does, you’ll likely plan your grocery shopping around it. And now in a completely unsolicited final plug, here’s a link to their website. Feel free to click and enjoy for yourself.

Counting down to the announcement of the official opening date of my new Trader Joe’s, here’s my pledge: I will never take you for granted again.

Ó By Anita Garner

Toddler Focus Group

By Anita Garner

My favorite toddler arrived for a visit, packing her portable DVD player and a stack of choices.  Among the titles,

Barbie Mariposa And Her Butterfly Fairy Friends

Where the heck did that title come from? A visit to a Toddler Focus Group may shed some light.

In the room with a one-way window, the table and chairs have been removed.  Twelve toddlers sit on the floor.  They’ll help marketing executives and manufacturers name a new product.  No adults are allowed in. Parents join executives looking through the glass and see that all toddlers have the perfect tool for making choices.  Each holds onto a remote with big colorful buttons.  Toddlers completely understand remotes.   They can delete anything within seconds.

A voice through speakers in the room coaxes the little ones to push buttons. Do you like butterflies?  They push the butterfly button.   Do you like fairies?  And on through a series of questions that correspond with pictures on the remote.

Oops – some of our toddlers appear to be trying to push the buttons on a neighbor’s remote, but a few are still listening.

Do you like Barbie?  Yes.  How about friends?  That gets the biggest reaction so far.  Preschool and play-dates have already taught them that friends are the best new things of all.  They quickly push the button with the colorful outline of children holding hands.

Wait now.  The group is drifting.  Only three toddlers are still interested in the remotes.  The rest wander around, poking each other, getting acquainted.

The voice continues to ask about magic toddler words, but all order has been lost and at the end of a session that only lasted five minutes but seemed to go on forever, advertising people string together a bunch of words and declare this new DVD title will contain several things kids seem to like. (How did “Mariposa” get in there?  I’m not sure.  I haven’t watched it yet.)  What does the title mean? No one knows.   And does it matter, really?

One very smart executive/parent asks shouldn’t we add ladybugs?  Toddlers like ladybugs even more than new friends.  Oh, all right then, maybe next time.  In fact let’s commission a script right now that includes the words Barbie and Ladybugs.

Parents are allowed in.  A few toddlers run to them, while others act as if they’ve never seen these adults before, and continue what they were doing.  Somebody finds a Goldfish cracker in his mommy’s purse.  Now everybody wants one, but there aren’t any more. Crying begins. Another parent produces Cheerios from a baggie that will be carried everywhere until the toddler starts college.  All are pacified with the wholegrain O’s.

While the munching toddlers say goodbye or ignore each other, let’s consider a point that focus groups need to spend more time with.  What kinds of toys do grandparents want?

Here’s the Grandparent Focus Group.  Table and chairs are restored and a variety of diet and regular colas, coffee, decaf, and teas in all kinds of flavors are offered.  Treats are on a side table.  Some of the grandparents choose M & M’s while others go for the nutrition bars.  New toys to be tested are on the table.

The voice in the speaker asks, “Does the ratchety-ratchety sound of this toy lawnmower seem authentic to you?”

It does and is that absolutely necessary?

“How about the humming noise on this pretend-vacuum cleaner?”

That is way too realistic.  Here’s an idea.  How about you make this toy with a grandparent control, an invisible one I can push from way over here so the toddler can’t see it?  When a complaint arises from the shorter person in the room, I am prepared to lie.

No, honey, I have no idea why your toy stopped working just now.

Question from the Market Research team:

“How about this pretend-cellphone/camera that rings and also makes a loud clicking sound when the toddler puts it right in your face?”

A hidden on/off switch would be good.  I’m prepared to look surprised.

Oh, your cellphone won’t ring anymore?  Really?  I’m sure the camera still works, honey.  It probably doesn’t feel like clicking every single time.

And what of the sad little toddler face?

Darned cellphone.  Here, give it to Hammy.  I’ll fix it later.  Let’s go eat some strawberries.