Walking out of a new Trader Joe’s store in Gainesville, Fla., I told my husband, “This may be the trendiest thing I’ve ever done.” Considering the fashion misdeeds of my youth included parachute pants and bubble suits, this was saying a lot.
Like many of my friends in Southern cities that aren’t named Atlanta, I appreciate when brands and retailers renowned in other parts of the country finally make a foray into Dixie. Thus, it was a given my holiday visit to Gainesville would not be complete until I walked through the doors at TJ’s. And walk I did, along with what seemed like at least half the population of this college town, all for an experience – one not previously available to us.
I had just left another grocery store. I didn’t go in with a particular list of items to purchase, nor did anyone else if the number of shoppers browsing aimlessly was any indication. We were all there for the experience. That and the obligatory bottle of $2.99 wine, also known as Three-Buck Chuck. Several minutes later, my curiosity quelled and impulse buys completed, I went home.
What struck me about the store (besides the quirky atmosphere and wanna-be hipster shoppers) were the low prices, many of which were for Trader Joe’s private label products. Even organic items and foodie favorites were available for less than I’ve seen in any other store. Almond milk priced at just $1.69, for example. This undoubtedly is the draw for the Trader Joe’s fanatics I know.
Ironically, selling store brand products at low prices (albeit less original and gourmet) is an art perfected by big bad Wal-Mart, which many in Gainesville vehemently opposed allowing in its fair city a few years back. Although both promise everyday low prices, these two retailers couldn’t be more different – at least that is the perception. At the risk of over simplifying the role of the two companies’ business practices and operations in defining their brands, consumers’ perceptions hinge largely on the shopping experience. Or, the previous lack thereof, in the case of Trader Joe’s stores in new markets like Gainesville. TJ’s definitely has the IT factor and it will be interesting to see whether the demand for IT is lasting as the chain grows its presence across the South.
(Now, off to meet Chuck.)