Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: NYC

7 Trader Joes-inspired business success strategies I use

People in NYC love Trader Joes.

I’ve found that TJs operates by some simple principles that can be applied to any business which I outline below.

1. Don’t try to do everything for everyone
Trader Joes stays nimble by only offering a few items but making sure people really like those items. They’re okay knowing that you’ll have to go elsewhere for some things because they know you’ll still buy from them the things they do better than others. Trying to create a store that would be a “one stop shop” would hurt their ability to do all the other things they do well. “Put more force behind one arrow” is a powerful mantra for any business and the way a David can take down a “Goliath” — the focused slingshot rock right at the blind spot inevitably created by the Goliath’s size.

2. Set reasonable prices, make money on volume
TJs keeps things simple and wants to offer value. People recognize this and customer loyalty is created. People also recognize that the lack of frills is a part TJ’s charm and what allows them to offer affordable quality.

3. Experiment and discard what doesn’t sell
TJs is constantly introducing new stuff and removing old stuff that isn’t selling. Inventory or product or feature pruning and focus is important with any business.

4. Invest your profits into your staff
Staff members at TJs are generally happy and friendly. Maybe this is because they make more money and are given better benefits than those working elsewhere. The customer experience is far more enjoyable as a result. It sounds corny but it does seem like somewhat of a family when you shop there. Consider how much more confident you’d be in retaining customers at your own business if they also felt like they were a part of a family as a customer of your business.

5. Give free samples
Free samples just make people happy and show you’re confident with your products. At TJs this means literally giving out food samples but in other service of product businesses it may sometimes mean providing your services or products at a discounted, below market price at the beginning to make it easy for new customers to see how good you are and win trust.

6. Offer sustainability
Having an advertised mission beyond profit shows customers you have a higher purpose and are working to also make a larger difference.

7. Keep location overhead low
People care about the value of the products and not the office space. Good employees will care more about whether they are making a good living working on something they care about than the grandeur of their office.



A goodbye to F.A.O. Schwartz & the persistence of Mike Stone’s “Amazing Dip-er-do-II”

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F.A.O Schwartz closed last Wednesday here in Manhattan. I hadn’t been inside in ~23+ years. The last time I went as a boy with my great childhood friend Alexander. As kids, Alexander had all the coolest toys and “stuff” at his house — a pool with a waterslide, a trampoline, a pool table, a refrigerator stocked with Cokes (and you could drink the whole can if you wanted) and and the movie Willow on VHS, which I made him watch which me each time I visited.  So when his Mom took us to the greatest toy store in the world on a trip into NYC it made sense.

The key thing I remember about that visit is that we both bought these really simple-looking, small, styrofoam airplane things. But despite their humble construction these guys were special. Though decades have past the thing I remember most about the first visit was some guy casually tossing these little planes up in the air and seeing them loop around and come right back to him perfectly every time. It was magical. I remember he was looping them around this large pillar in the store perfectly. He let Alexander and me try ’em out. It was easy. It looped back on my first throw and I was mesmerized by these things. We both bought a small envelope containing a few of the planes and had great fun with them when we got back to the ‘burbs.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago: I am enjoying a beautiful walk around Central Park and somehow end up being pulled towards F.A.O. Schwatrz with this faint idea that I had heard or read it was closing soon. I walk in and pass the $1200 stuffed animals — massive lions and tiger and bears — and see the iconic man-sized piano on the floor made famous by Tommy Hanks in Big, almost break my neck tripping over some kid going wild in one of the hallways with a remote controlled car. Then I turn a corner and there it is: The Dip-er-do-II.” An oldish gentleman is tossing it in the air in the same casual fashion and kids and their parents have gathered around to watch.

I approach. “Amazing it’s still here,” I thought. After watching the demos for a few minutes and trying it out again myself I tell the guy demoing it, “You know, this is great because I was here probably 23+ years ago and some guy was demoing these that day and I thought they were the coolest and bought a set.” This man replied: “That man who sold you that set was me.”


“What?!” That absolutely blew my mind. Apparently this guy has been at this store looping these airplanes around pillars since 1985. He’s Howard Stone, the son of the founder of the Dip-er-do, Mike Stone. “I may have had more hair back then, but that was me,” he said.

A few things:

1) I found it amazing that this guy has been throwing airplanes around F.A.O. Schwartz full time for decades. That said, when you see how every kid (and adult, for that matter) is taken by this simple toy in the same way that I was all those years ago, you think about  how it must be nice to be able to produce that reaction in people every minute of every day that you’re “on the job.” It’s hard to imagine that creating a little magic in the lives of little kids gets old even if the vehicle for it remains the unchanged.

2) What a great son to carry on his father’s invention, business and legacy in this way.

3) Speaking of business: My adult mind started thinking — like it does — about what the business of this product is like. Do these sell a lot online? Do they have distribution outside F.A.O. and what will happen when the store closes in a few days? The answers from Howard: Apparently F.A.O. is a big account. They want to sell more online and he said he did hire some people to go to trade shows but they didn’t demo them. “They don’t sell if you don’t demo them,” he said. And that’s probably true. They’re only $11.95 or something so it’s an easy buy in a store where the alternative is a $1100, 70 pound stuffed giraffe. But you do have to be there showing people how cool they other to make the sale. It’s an important point for all entrepreneurs. He said he’s looking for some young people to help him with social media if you want to send him a note!

Anyway, I bought a new set of planes from Howard and went on my way. But I wanted to share this story. You can buy a plane at and see video instructions. (That’s a cool domain name too.)

Howard was proud to note that they are made in the United States, right in their production facility in New Jersey. They make great gifts. But be prepared to demo the product if you really want to sell the gift recipient on how special this simple toy is!

Here’s Howard Stone demoing “The Amazing Dip-er-do II”:

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