Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Trader Joe's Hates Canada

There are no Trader Joe's in Canada.

But there is definitely plenty of demand. The store closest to the border regularly sees 40% of its receipts from foriegn (mostly Canadian) credit cards.  And it suffers from long lines.   So much so that there's a guy who regularly travels from Canada to the U.S., visits a Trader Joe's, buys about $25,000 worth of stuff and then drives back.

He adds a small mark-up and sells it all rather quickly. Why? He's a fan. He used to live in Emeryville, Calif.

Trader Joe's got mad. They posted photos of him in the stores and tried to keep him from buying from them. He had to resort to hiring people after his other idea (of cross-dressing in a mumu) almost got him arrested.  Someone even (hmm... I wonder who?) once put in an anonymous tip that he was smuggling wine - that got him held up at Customs for a long time.

And eventually they sued.  And they lost.

This bothers me. On one hand, ignoring a customer base... that seems un-American.  On the other hand, using lawyers, alienating your fans and acting like a big bully... that seems very American. Like THE MAN.

But is Trader Joe's now THE MAN?  Here's what SHOULD have happened.

Trader Joe's should have established a one-year franchise agreement with the guy, Michael Hallett.  A quick agreement that specifies how and where he can use the name, the disclaimer that must be presented to people who enter the store, guidelines about advertising, store design/presentation, expansion, and if possible, limits on the amount of profit he can make on products. Allow him to place an order and have it delivered to the nearest Trader Joe's on a pallet for him to pick up, payment due at the time of order in the form of a cashier's check or wire transfer or whatever. Tell the employees that officially they're not to assist him in loading, but let them know unofficially if they want to help (to extend the "Trader Joe's spirit"), they can if it's slow.

Why? At some point Trader Joe's may want to enter the Canadian market. Letting Hallett make the products available to people who can't or are unwilling to travel to the United States helps people to learn about the brand, build an audience inexpensively, creating fans by showing they're a company that cares - if they can't be there themselves, they're willing to let their fans bring the brand.

We didn't really shop much at Trader Joe's when we lived in the hometown of its headquarters, but we've lately discovered Unexpected Cheddar as well as a cheese with chocolate and their Jelly Beans that don't contain any dye which is perfect for our dye-averse children.

(More information MSNBC)

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