Company History Sells If Done Right. Examples Trader Joe's and Harry's
They had me the first time I walked through the door. Some happy person placed a cup of coffee and a sample in my hand right off. I progressed on, passed through the entrance flanked by a multitude of colorful flower bouquets as I nibbled on my morsel. I hummed along with the pleasing music and basked among unique products with clever packaging everywhere I turned.
I heard the occasional “ding” of a bell and met many Hawaiian-shirt-clad staff stocking shelves and offering more samples. I knew then—like when you squeeze a good melon—this was my place, these were my people, and this was my shopping nirvana.
If you’re fortunate to have this grocery chain near you, then you know I’m talking about Trader Joe’s.
In case you missed it, and in full disclosure, I am a hopeless Trader Joe’s fan. Alas, no kick-backs head my way for saying this, but I’m not alone. I’m part of a large following of brand loyalists to Trader’s that has grown significantly in the last two decades. Trader Joe’s original store in Pasadena, California launched in 1967. I had my first visit to a store while in Chicago, and hoped then for one closer to home. It was a thrill when a Trader Joe’s finally opened up in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Top-of-the-list reason Trader Joe’s is so popular is their use of story to market their brand and products.
Each item—purchased by and produced for Trader Joe’s—comes decked out in their branded, attractive packaging. Trader’s use of design is clean, clear and—as it happens—nautical.
The kicker, or the added glory of each product launch, is Trader Joe’s introduction of an item by use of story. The anecdotes turn food items into treasured specialties dripping with fun details. Often the products and their background are featured in the Trader Joe’s newsletter called the “Fearless Flyer.” Trader Joe’s first roots in the use of story began when they sold California wines at their original store. They provided the wine’s history with descriptions of flavor nuances for each. And then, they carried the concept of storytelling over to everything on their shelves from corn to salsa.
In addition to anecdotes, Trader’s also shares useful ideas for pairings and recipes. How can one not buy something once they’ve invested in its origins and seen all its wonderful possibilities?
While their sense of fun is on display on their packaging design and their nautical-themed store layout, it also shines in the voice they use for their newsletter and digital presence.
Trader’s website highlights the story of the company’s beginnings and evolution. Check out Trader’s history, and you’ll find the timeline of events that lead to their success for over 50 years.
With humor and interesting tidbits, the Trader Joe’s timeline navigates the reader through the spark of an idea, their unconventional growth and their sometimes quirky path that have flipped the grocery store model on its ear.
For example, I learned about Trader’s relationship with Charles Shaw Wines, which evolved into the popular “2-buck Chuck” that is quite tasty.
The history shakes out Trader’s barrel of nuts beginnings, their lead in reusable bags and early adoption of offering organic food.
I didn’t catch the reasons behind their nautical theme, how they came to the name Trader Joe’s, or the reason behind the bell or Hawaiian shirts from newsletters. However, their recently launched podcast “Inside Trader Joe’s” does answer those questions and others posed by fans.
THE TRADER JOE’S TAKEAWAYS—FOR MARKETING OR YOUR OWN STORYTELLING
Share your difference. Highlight those details in your story that make you unique.
Take us off the beaten path in your own journey. Provide the snags along the way, or the weird digressions. (I.e. Trader Joe’s sold branded pantyhose for a while, who knew!)
Be personable. Relax a bit and let in some light. No stuffed shirts or copy-speak allowed. If there have been setbacks, share them. Above all, make sure you are approachable.
As a story/history-telling expert, I give Trader’s high marks for knowing how to share their stories and pull in their audience. And for me, a customer, knowing the history ratchets Trader Joe’s from being merely a grocery store to a friendly oasis.
Another company history that has piqued my attention is the razor company Harry’s. I don’t use the product but enjoyed (and more importantly remember) their clever 60-second ad that tells Harry’s story.
The founders, Jeff and Andy, recognized a problem for the shaving men of the world. It turns out that guys spend way too much money for razor blades. And worse, the blades for sale at stores are treated like dangerous and theft-worthy paraphernalia protected behind locked cases. Poor dudes are stuck in this mess for buying blades. I had no idea it was this bad.
Harry’s founders have identified a problem and come up with a solution!
As the story moves along, it becomes clear there is a razor blade price conspiracy at work. Our heroes Jeff and Andy break the razor blade pricing consortium wide open.
We meet the owner of a blade company—some German guy, which makes it extra interesting—who sells his factory to Jeff and Andy. In the next phase, we see them working hands-on to produce their great blades and create a delivery and pricing model that saves the shaving public.
The proof for me that this history is a keeper is that I remember the ad. Harry’s cleverly tells the story with an arc which takes us from problem to resolution. What can be more calming than that?
And a visit to Harry’s website reveals they’ve nicely carried over their story with clean, understandable text, great photos and a sense of humor.
Harry’s is an example of consistent branding, which maximizes their history and also reveals their up close and personal side. In addition, Harry’s is mission-driven with that statement made prominent, and they provide a helpful, content-rich online magazine with even more stories.
THE HARRY’S TAKEAWAYS
Keep it simple.
Take a fun approach to telling your story if you can.
Love the problem that leads to a resolution model.
IS YOUR OR YOUR COMPANY’S STORY A PATHWAY TO MORE SUCCESS?
Trader’s and Harry’s effectively demonstrate how sharing history with the use of quality storytelling can help shape your brand or voice and engage your audience. Trader Joe’s figured this out fifty years ago, and Harry’s launched with the storytelling anthem in 2013. So, new or old: telling your story, how you came to be who you are, and the inspiration behind the people who shaped that is compelling stuff.
Is your personal or company history a story that brings your family members, prospects or community closer?