Sales Differentiation and The Winning Ways of Trader Joe’s

October 3, 2017  |  Posted by in Leadership Development, Sales Differentiation

Next time you are tempted to blame industry trends for your sales woes, or are engaged in another pricing debate with a member of your sales team, remember two words: Trader Joe’s. At a time when grocery chains are filing Chapter 11, downsizing and closing stores, the Trader Joe’s grocery chain continues its aggressive growth pace, albeit not fast enough to keep up with demand. The entry of mega-retail giants like Walmart and Target into the retail grocery space spawned panic and loathing among grocers whose fear of pricing pressure became a reality as customers defected in droves. Trader Joe’s biggest challenge is opening stores fast enough to accommodate its adoring buying public.

In an industry that is easily commoditized, Trader Joe’s has found a way to differentiate itself by creating a unique experience for customers: unique products, unique atmosphere and unique interaction with its staff. As sales leaders, we should pay very close attention to this last piece of the puzzle. What can and should we do to drive exceptional customer interaction with our own team?

Recently, I had the unusual experience of visiting two retail grocers – one right after the other. The contrast between the two stores in terms of customer engagement was remarkable. The first store featured the typical grocery dynamic in which I wandered the store unnoticed; if I needed assistance, it would have been a concerted effort to find someone to help me. My checkout clerk was in “automated cordial” mode. It was an interaction void of smiles or eye contact, and frankly, I didn’t give it a second thought…until 30 minutes later when I walked into Trader Joe’s.

There is a positive energy at Trader Joe’s that is created by the staff. Pause for more than 15 seconds in the aisle, and there will be an employee asking if you need help finding something. At checkout, clerks beckon customers to their aisle, as if in competition for their patronage. Without fail, the checkout clerk will ask how your day is going, and then listen to your answer. There is a real conversation that accompanies every checkout – comments about your purchase, positive reinforcement about what you’ve selected, and queries about your experience or opinions on purchased items.

Doing something extremely well makes it look easy. Pleasing customers seems effortless at Trader Joe’s, but as leaders of human beings, we know that is not the case! Top leadership at Trader Joe’s has clearly set customer delight as the top priority. One must assume there is robust training to support this objective, along with key behaviors identified and then modeled by leaders at every level in the organization. What is the focus on customer delight in your organization? How often do you give team members the opportunity to see you in “customer-delighting” mode?

In truth, we can all learn a lot from Trader Joe’s and the entire grocers industry. Do we want to be part of the majority who are perfectly validated in our challenges and suffering? Or do we want to be the organization that redefines the rules with our differentiation? Do we want to be the leaders who have no control over the products and pricing set forth for us, or the leaders who drive differentiation through sales and customer service excellence on our team? Cultivating a passion for customer delight is a precursor for creating our own adoring customer fan base.

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