When is Plymouth going to get a Trader Joe’s? That question has probably been asked more times than there are O’s in a box of Joe’s O’s. It popped into my mind the other day as I glanced at a sad display of Stop & Shop strawberries – $9.99 for one measly package of off-season fruit.
The better question might be this: Will Plymouth ever get a Trader Joe’s market?
I hope you keeping reading, but there is no big reveal coming. The California-based grocery store chain is inscrutable when it comes to providing an answer. But then, no business is going to divulge its expansion plans just to satisfy me or any other journalist, which is pretty much what a Trader Joe’s spokesperson told me recently. The company positions itself as a kind of alternative/laid back grocer, but its public relations department trades in typical corporate lingo.
“Thank you for reaching out,” said Nadia Rohde, the spokesperson, in an email. “We share the story of how we select new locations on our podcast, ‘Inside Trader Joe’s – Episode 52: How To Make A Trader Joe’s (Part One).’”
When I asked to speak to a person instead of just listening to a generic recording, she declined. “You are welcome to send me questions,” Rohde wrote. “However, we created our podcast so we could share our story in our own words, so there is likely not much more to share.”
I did eventually listen to the podcast – more on that soon – but first, some basic facts. Trader Joe’s has 545 stores in 42 states, plus the District of Columbia. There are 19 in Massachusetts, with the closest being Hanover to the north (19 miles from downtown Plymouth) and Hyannis to the south (31 miles away). The Hanover location was recently moved and expanded, an investment that does not bode well for a Plymouth store happening any time soon. Those locations aren’t convenient, but they don’t require daytrips.
Still, it’s easy to argue that Plymouth’s growth has reached critical mass, and that a Trader Joe’s store here would do well, drawing customers not only from in town, but also from the west, via Route 44. It seems unlikely that it would cannibalize business in Hanover and Hyannis, but I’m not a marketing expert.
“We are actively looking at hundreds of neighborhoods across the country as we hope to open more new neighborhood stores each year,” Rohde wrote. “We list all of the stores that are opening soon on our website. We typically announce new locations a couple of months before they open.”
FYI: The only “coming soon” Massachusetts address currently listed is Boylston Street in Boston.
There’s a popular misconception that Trader’s Joe’s won’t open in a town where’s there’s already an Aldi grocery store because the two are part of the same company and thus would compete with each other. “Trader Joe’s is owned by families that also own part of Aldi Nord [Aldi’s parent],” the company’s website explains. “Trader Joe’s and Aldi Nord operate independently.”
It’s like saying TJX Cos. won’t locate a Marshalls and T.J. Maxx in the same city or town. As we know, it does.
As for how Trader Joe’s determines where to open a new store, the podcast does offer some insight. First, it routinely reviews requests for store openings, many of which come from the public.
Then there are the economics. According to a 2018 Freakanomics podcast, Trader Joe’s stores typically are located in areas that have household incomes about $10,000 above the median amount. The US Census Bureau pegged Plymouth’s median household income at about $107,000 as of 2022, which is about $10,000 above the statewide median, and way above the national median of $74,580. Plymouth easily passes the income test, but it’s hardly the only factor in the decision-making process.
About 20 percent of “site submittals” make the first cut, meaning they get an internal review “where we really dig in,” according to the podcast. Half of those potential sites on the short list end up getting the green light – in other words, half of the 20 percent. That means only one out of 10 requests results in a store being opened. It’s way better than Nikki Haley’s chances of becoming president, but hardly encouraging.
In the slickly-produced podcast, Matt Sloan, who describes himself as “the marketing product guy,” chats with Tara Miller, “director of words and phrases and clauses,” and Donny Martin, longtime vice president of real estate and construction.
(This is already a lot more fun than my emails with Rohde.)
“We can’t open every store that we’d like to open,” says Matt. “Not all at once, certainly. And yet we’re definitely a growth-oriented company.”
Donny says that at the time of the podcast (August 2022), the company was looking at between 200 and 219 potential store locations. “Sometimes we go back and look at another site twice, as we may not be able to find something better, but we want to be in that community,” he says.
Later, Matt brings up a critical point from the perspective of Plymouth Trader Joe’s fans. “There are so many places that we truly, believe it or don’t, would love to open stores,” he says. “And people I think are always looking like, ‘Why, Trader Joe’s, why not this town? Why not that town?’”
Then Donny tells us why. Sort of.
“We have to stay focused. Our goal is to get 20 to 25 stores a year opened,” he says. “If we took on every request and spent time looking into every one of those, our focus and our drive shifts.”
“If we entertained every conceivable opportunity, we would get nothing done,” Matt adds.
What a buzz kill, guys!
But do not clutch your Hawaiian shirts in despair, shoppers. You can submit a request for a Plymouth TJ’s through an online form. Brittain Ladd, a Dallas-based strategy consultant, told me that it helps to be specific – tell the company where a store in Plymouth might work best.
“Trader Joe’s wants stores located where there is lots of visibility to the store, easy entry and exit, and plenty of parking,” Ladd notes. “Trader Joe’s will then have to determine how easy it will be to replenish groceries at the store. If a store location is too far from a distribution center, it won’t be opened.”
To me, this means don’t recommend the old Benny’s Plaza or any site too far south or too far from Route 3 or Route 44 and Commerce Way. Cranberry Crescent looks like a possibility – there’s plenty of open space – though Arthur T. Demoulas might not be thrilled about a grocery store adjacent to his Market Basket. I’m sure readers have other suggestions.
Meantime, I’ll have to make the trek to Hanover to try out the recently crowned winner of Trader Joe’s 15th Annual Customer Choice Awards – Chili and Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips. I’ll bet they’re crunchy and delicious and spicy, but knowing I might never be able to buy them in my hometown kind of leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
Stuzzi finds itself in a sweet spot in The Pinehills
We’ve established that Trader Joe’s is not on its way to Plymouth any time soon, but there is some good news on the food front – Stuzzi Café & Sweet Shop is here.
Owners Christina and David Bunda recently opened the shop on the edge of the Village Green in The Pinehills. It touts an “irresistible blend of artisan chocolates, gelato, espresso, and coffee drinks,” seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stuzzi – which is Italian for “tease,” – is built around “four essentials,” according to a press release: “Handcrafted signature chocolates derived from Christina’s family recipes, small-batch artisan gelato sourced from Connecticut, espresso and coffee drinks made from beans roasted by Plymouth’s Speedwell Coffee, and nostalgic candies reminiscent of the
penny candy era.”
That sounds better than a tortilla chip.
One other thing: Unlike our news stories, this column sometimes includes the author’s opinions.
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