competitive retail food markets in the country.
"We have learned that competition helps everyone sharpen their game, and the customer always comes out ahead," said Stephen Butt, senior vice president of Central Market, a division of H.E. Butt Grocery Co.
Said Kroger spokesman Gary Huddleston: "Trader Joe's is a good competitor. We believe we offer the best value to customers with larger variety, great customer service and low prices."
Trader Joe's stores are about one fourth the size of a traditional supermarket but do far more business per square foot, industry experts say. Hertel figures that a typical Trader Joe's in the Chicago area does about 80 percent as much business as a traditional supermarket, but in half the space.
Fortune magazine reported in 2010 that it sold $1,750 of goods per square foot, more than double what Whole Foods did. A Trader Joe's spokeswoman declined to comment on the Fortune article.
In fact, the company would discuss very little. Trader Joe's seldom if ever participates in industry conferences and is widely considered the most secretive retail food chain.
Regarding its ownership, all the Trader Joe's website says is that it's privately owned -- not a word of its connection to Germany's billionaire Albrecht family. It built the international Aldi discount chain empire, which had divided the world between Aldi Nord (North) and Aldi Sud (South) after a feud between the two Albrecht brothers, Karl and Theo.
South operates the Aldi stores in the U.S., while North bought Trader Joe's, then a small chain, in 1979 and operates it independently.
The company won't disclose whether there are any product sourcing or logistical synergies. But Rand says Trader Joe's and Aldi have similar marketing approaches, albeit for different types of customers.
In any case, the recent entries of Aldi, Sprouts Farmers Markets and now Trader Joe's into an already saturated North Texas market can only work to the average consumer's benefit. By keeping gallons of milk under $2 and a dozen eggs under $1, Aldi has kept prices low for such staples.
For two years, the chain resisted demands that it join a campaign for safe working conditions and fair wages on Florida tomato farms, a position that Whole Foods but no other national supermarket chains adopted. It had called the Campaign for Fair Food's approach "unacceptable," but on Feb. 9 -- a day before demonstrations were planned at Trader Joe's stores in 40 cities -- the chain gave in, praising the group's "groundbreaking approach to social responsibility" and agreeing to pay an extra cent per pound of tomatoes.
The chain for years concentrated on both coasts before expanding through the central states, self-financing its new stores as it moves into new markets, Rand said.
The company, which started in Los Angeles, now has more than 370 stores in 33 states.
Expansion plans in Texas include openings in The Woodlands, near Houston, on Friday; in Plano on Sept. 7; two in Houston later this year; in San Antonio on Oct. 19; on Dallas' Greenville Avenue in the first quarter of 2013; in Dallas' Preston Hollow neighborhood in 2014; and in Austin in 2014.
As intensely close-mouthed as Trader Joe's is about its management and methods, it makes a point of hiring chatty, helpful staff. Human resources managers reportedly count how many times a job applicant smiles during the interview process. Job applicants are told on the company website that they must make eye contact with shoppers.
And it has a far higher percentage of full-time employees on the floor than other chains, Rand said.
"The staff is very friendly, almost nosey about what I plan to do with what I'm buying," said Mauri Artz, an author and college entrance coach in the Cleveland suburb of Gates Mills. "They have probably been coached to start conversations about food. Anyway, the produce is usually good, though I have had some bad packaged melons and grapes. The sushi is awful. Looks bad, tastes horrible.
"The flash-frozen fish really works well with soups and sauces -- especially the tuna," Artz said, adding, "I love the in-store demonstrations, and the prices are nice."
The company declined to say whether it will offer any different products in Fort Worth, which it misspelled "Forth Worth" in its first advertising flier. But it introduces a dozen new products weekly and analyst Rand said that store managers have surprising freedom to swap out items, a sort of throwback to a bygone era of grocery management.
Paying well above industry averages might help explain why Trader Joe's workers are seemingly so good-natured. Full-time clerks are said to earn about $40,000 with medical and dental insurance; managers reportedly get six figures.
Moreover, the company makes a 15.4 percent, unmatched contribution into employee retirement accounts.
"I am told, but can't prove it, that they somehow test people for being customer-friendly," Rand said. "They're very outgoing, very engaged. You don't get that from a chain retailer very often."
Most Popular Stories
- Facebook, Twitter Announce Apps for Google Glass
- Will Yahoo Splurge on $1-Billion acquisition of Tumblr?
- European Car Sales up First Time in 20 Months
- 'Star Trek Into Darkness': The Return of Khan?
- Google Fiber Making an Impact
- Entrepreneurs Chase Social Media
- Exciting Night for UFC Fans
- Teen Drivers Should Be Prepared for Any Car-Related Situation
- Summer Movies Aimed at Young Men, Teen Boys
- RFD-TV launches on Charter Cable