My Affair with a Grocer

In 2017, I stepped into a Trader Joe’s for the first time as a friend and I loaded up on some road trip -type food for our 14-day adventure through the country of Mexico.

I was immediately intrigued by how different this grocer is. It goes beyond their highly addictive peanut butter pretzels, colorful hand-drawn signage, and the bell-ringing at the checkout lanes.

Visiting Trader Joe's in Oklahoma City
Before heading south towards Mexico, we decided to take a picture in front of Trader Joe’s, excited about our purchase of bread, canned smoked herring, peanut butter pretzels, trail mix, etc. for the road-trip.

There’s something about their staff Trader Joe’s call Crew Members. Besides wearing Hawaiian shirts or colorful tees with hibiscus motif, these people seem genuinely happy to be working there.

My curiosity about the culture of Trader Joe’s got me interested enough to apply for a job at a local store shortly after returning from Mexico. Between the friends I have made and having the chance to create hand-drawn signs as one of their artists, joining this family has been an enriching experience.

BEYOND THE DOODLES

One of the unique features of Trader Joe’s is their hand-drawn signages throughout the store. From shelf tags displaying product name/price to chalkboard signs featuring a special item or other information, the unpolished look and sometimes playful doodles created a sense of casualness and fun.

Hand-drawn signages at Trader Joes
(LEFT) The banana sign is the first one I got to draw at Trader Joe’s. (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP) Some other art as a rookie sign artist include long shelf strips for produce, end cap sign featuring specific product, and A-frame about the electronic Fearless Flyer.

While the word “doodle” is sometimes defined as “a rough drawing made absentmindedly”, the intention behind empowering a staff or two to create these signs is far from being an absentminded decision by the company. If nothing else, Trader Joe’s stands out against other grocery stores that display computer-generated printed signs.

BEYOND THE PRODUCTS

While customers may not understand why mushroom soup is only available at Trader Joe’s closer to Thanksgiving, they do come faithfully for their favorite products that cannot be found anywhere (well, unless if you are willing to pay a ridiculously marked-up price online from opportunistic capitalists).

I have known people who would stock up on the “Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend” (even though it’s available year-round) or buy the “Popcorn in a Pickle” by the cases (yes, cases not packages!?!?) when it comes to the store.

Oklahoma City Customer favorite items from Trader Joes
A store-level campaign I have created to highlight Oklahoma City customer favorites in line with Trader Joe’s Annual Customer Choice Awards.

Coming from a nation of foodie (ie. Singapore), I am blessed to be able to say that I live to eat and not eat to live. It’s natural for people to talk about their favorite food, or actually invite others to partake with them their culinary indulgence. And I do often hear friends and customers enthused over their TJ favorites. Such buzz and word-of-mouth is sure a good thing for any brand.

BEYOND THE SMILES

Shopping at Trader Joe’s is not just about checking off your honey-do-list at a grocery store. Even if you wear a don’t-talk-to-me look (or a t-shirt with that message), it is almost impossible to leave the place without at least being greeted by the crew members.

If you are looking for a personal (& knowledgable) shopping companion, simply ask a crew member to help you locate the things on your list. And don’t be surprised if he/she walks every necessary aisle with you while providing insights to interesting product, especially their personal favorite.

Crew member's favorite items at Trader Joes
Another campaign in conjunction with the Customer Favorite so that crew members can talk about their own favorite Trader Joe’s product.

I have never seen a bunch of happier people working at a grocery store. There is always a casual and playful vibe between the crew members as they stock the shelves or man the check-out line. And they make you feel like part of the family.

There is never a stranger in their minds, just a friend they want to get to know better. That’s setting the gold standard for memorable customer service.


See what I have been paid to “doodle” at TJ’s.

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