First White Castle, then Starbucks, now Trader Joe’s...
Allow me to let you in on a little secret about the business reporting in the Kansas City Star. If they can find a way to make things larger-than-life, they will. I remember the newspaper’s mid-’80s hype about Kansas Citians flying in White Castle burgers from St. Louis the demand was so great.
Fifteen lackluster years later, White Castle beat it out of town, its tail between its legs.
In 1998 Starbucks came to KC. Much to the chagrin of next-door neighbor, Westport’s locally-owned Broadway Cafe. Broadway didn’t stand a chance. Ten years later, Starbucks moved on while Broadway is stronger than ever.
Which brings us to the much-ballyhooed grocer Trader Joe’s…
The Star‘s Joyce Smith couldn’t have hyped Trader Joe’s arrival more if she’d been on its payroll. "Brands that inspire belief: Trader Joe’s comes to KC," reads the headline on her July 13 sendup.
"Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A, Apple — they’re cult retailers," Smith gushed. "These big names and others have built a zealous following with great products at great values and by making an e"motional connection with consumers. As a result, their customers advertise for them, spreading the word and even convincing other customers that they should buy favorite products when shopping in the stores."
Just like White Castle and Starbucks…
Now let’s look at Trader Joe’s through the eyes of a couple who’ve shopped there for a decade.
"I’ve found that it’s comparable to Whole Foods but it’s not as good as Whole Foods," says upscale hotelier and musician Larry Padilla of Tucson. "It’s really a poor man’s Whole Foods."
"With Whole Foods you’re going to spend more money, but you’re going to be happier with the quality," Padilla says. "The vegetables at Whole Foods have lots of flavor, the pastries at Whole Foods are better and they have a butcher at Whole Foods."
Like in KC, when Trader Joe’s was a hot ticket when it opened in Tucson.
"It was the thing to do," Padilla says. "Instead of going to Safeway."
"I would put our new Safeway ahead of Trader Joe’s," Padilla says. "Trader Joe’s used to be a very cool place. They would carry a lot of quality foods, like Paul Newman‘s line of foods. It was cool to shop there. Like you were a beatnik or an artist. Kind of like when Starbucks first opened. But now you’re uncool if you go to Starbucks – if you’re spending five bucks for a cup of coffee you’re an idiot."
To put things in persepctive, "Everything has its time, but it’s all about quality," Padilla muses. "And to me, Trader Joe’s is mediocre. Once you buy something at Trader Joe’s and you buy the identical product at Whole Foods there is a discernable difference."
Padilla’s wife Terry – an instructor at an Arizona community college – has another take.
"There are some things I like at Trader Joe’s," she says. "They have a protein bread I can’t get any other place. I buy a few things there, but not a lot. They’ve got some good wines, but I’ve bought stuff there – like you buy something there and it’s stale. And that never happens at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is more expensive but they really check oiut their vendors."
Larry Padilla’s bottom line on Trader Joe’s:
"It’s an image thing. Am I cool because I shop there? Am I going there because of my image? Or am I going because they have something unique? On a scale of one to ten, I would put Whole Foods at a 10, Safeway at a 5 or 6 and Trader Joe’s at 4 or 5."