Joe Coulombe, who founded the wildly popular grocery chain Trader Joe’s, has died at the age of 89.
Joe Coulombe, a man considered to be a marketing whiz and a retail visionary who changed the grocery industry with his company Trader Joe’s, died at the age of 89 on Friday, February 28, after suffering from a long illness per his son Joe Jr. His success began many decades ago before his brand, which eventually became known for its quirky and inexpensive products like their Charles Shaw (“Two Buck Chuck”) wine, was a staple for shoppers nationwide to enjoy as an alternative to the more traditional supermarkets and the high-end gourmet outlets.
Here are five things to know about Joe and the legend that he came to be.
1: California living. Joe was born in Southern California on June 3, 1930. His smarts led him to Stanford University where he graduated in 1952 with a degree in Economics and later earned an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1954.
2: Career beginnings. His career began in a different direction when he worked at a former chain of drugstores called Rexall. Competition arose later on when he was asked to test the launch of six Pronto Markets in the Los Angeles area as a way to battle rival chain 7-Eleven. Joe eventually bought those Pronto Market locations out after Rexail asked him to shut them down. This is when the revolution known as Trader Joe’s began.
3: A new day has begun. Joe renamed his venture from Pronto Markets to Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, California in 1967. Trader Joe’s became a retail giant in the years to come with over 500 outlets in 40 states with an annual revenue of $13 billion dollars.
4: Making the customers happy. “He wanted to make sure whatever was sold in our store was of good value,” his son Joe Jr. once said in an interview. “He always did lots of taste tests. My sisters and I remember him bringing home all kinds of things for us to try. At his offices he had practically daily tastings of new products. Always the aim was to provide good food and good value to people.”
5: A huge business move. Joe sold Trader Joe’s to German billionaire Theo Albrecht in 1979 but remained as chief executive until he retired in 1988. He also served on the board of directors for Cost Plus and True Religion Apparel.