Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s grocery chain, has died at the age of 89.
Mr. Coulombe, who came up with the concept of the convenience store by selling tubes of toothpaste at parties, started his career at his mother’s company selling ice cream as a teenager. He was fired from the business and later realized it was suffering from a lack of customers.
The next time he went to sell his idea to a friend he was fired — but Mr. Coulombe was able to realize his dream of creating a grocery chain after a friend pitched it to him as a social club. “We didn’t want to be a supermarket,” Mr. Coulombe said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We just wanted to sell good groceries.”
Trader Joe’s chain was initially conceived as an international supermarket, but Mr. Coulombe’s son recalled on his company’s website that “business projections quickly showed that was not going to work out.”
“Basically, we had a couple of small bars of soap going around, and it was just going to take off from there,” Mr. Coulombe added. “I don’t know why I was convinced we could do it, but I figured there would be enough people out there like me with the same ideals that were the same.”
The chain has flourished and built up two dozen different locations, and has attracted customers with affordable food and variety. Mr. Coulombe, meanwhile, focused on raising the money to start his store and invested all the profits — from his part-time job with his mother’s firm — in his new enterprise.
“I’m much older than the store — all the stores — I bought for my kids,” he said. “It’s part of my life, part of what I wanted to do.”
His son Zach, who is now the chain’s CEO, told CNN that after his father’s death the company would take a pause and consider a formal retirement. “You just don’t think of your father being 89,” he added.