Coulombe, who died last February, at the age of eighty-nine, was one of the very few business leaders who could make minor discounts on the price of eggs feel monumental on the page. He tells plenty of these kinds of fun-fact-laden business tales in Becoming Trader Joe...an unusually colorful and sensible business guide that refuses to glamorize entrepreneurship ... For anyone who has visited a Trader Joe’s and experienced its dazzling array of foods, its bargain-basement prices, and its cheerful and hyper-competent staff, and wondered, What’s the catch?, Becoming Trader Joe provides many of the answers, most of which are satisfying and delightful. The book is a sort of Kitchen Confidential for the grocery business, but without the drugs or rage. In the age of Jeff Bezos and an endless stream of news about worker exploitation and corporate imperialism, it’s nice to go behind the scenes of a beloved national chain without uncovering insidious forces at work ... we gain plenty of insight into Coulombe through how he describes the trajectory of his company ... Coulombe’s rudimentary, instinct-driven business philosophies can feel like revelations ... Parts of Becoming Trader Joe are too relentlessly focussed on intricate economic principles to be interesting to anyone outside of business school, but even these sections offer up entertaining details about Coulombe’s decision-making.
The tone is conversational, one man’s view of the world through the wine, spirit and grocery business, filled with the type of puns, literary references and bold-faced pronouncements that mark the store’s signage and its legendary promotional leaflet, the Fearless Flyer ... Though clearly written for fellow entrepreneurs and business types — for all his folksiness, Coulombe had an MBA from Stanford — and published under HarperCollins’ Leadership imprint, Becoming Trader Joe is much more than a 'how-to' guide. Moving from the 1960s to the 1990s, it is also a tour of California’s shifting economy and culture, guided by one of its most original thinkers ... From the moment it begins at the Tail O’ the Cock on La Cienega Boulevard, Coulombe’s tale is a crazy-like-a-fox exploration of California culture through the lens of one wildly creative and well-read man always looking for a new way over, around or through. Entrepreneurs will no doubt find plenty of inspiration, but fans will find a fascinating origin story.
Any student of social trends, logistics, and supply chains will learn much from Coulombe’s pages and the stern dicta they contain ... Sure to be required reading in business school—and for fans of Coulombe’s creation as well.