The audience for Channel 28, the PBS station in Los Angeles, was demographically perfect for Trader Joe’s. In those days, however, PBS did not accept overt commercials. Alice had been quite active as a volunteer at the station. Through her contacts, we made arrangements to sponsor reruns of shows that tied to Trader Joe’s, such as the Julia Child shows, The Galloping Gourmet, and Barbara Wodehouse’s series on training dogs, which proved very effective! These reruns were not expensive compared with sponsoring first-runs and they had very good audiences. All we got was a “billboard” announcing that Trader Joe’s was sponsoring the show, but this was a cost-effective way of building our presence in the community. Another way we promoted ourselves on public TV was to “man the phones” during pledge drives. Our employees, led by Robin Guentert who was running advertising at that time (Robin became one of the most important members of store supervision after 1982, then President of Trader Joe’s in 2002), would show up en masse at the station. They loved being on TV, and we got the publicity. Promoting through Nonprofits Most retailers, when they’re approached by charities for donations, do their best to stiff-arm the would-be donees, or ask that a grueling series of requirements need to be met. In general they hate giving except to big, organized charities like United Way, because that way they escape being solicited by all sorts of uncomfortable pressure groups. At the very beginning of Trader Joe’s, however, we adopted a policy of using non-profit giving as an advertising and promotional tool. We established these policies: Never give cash to anyone. Never buy space in a program. That is money thrown away. Give freely, give generously, but only to nonprofits that are focused on the overeducated and underpaid. Any museum opening, any art gallery opening, any hospital auxiliary benefit, any college alumni gathering, the American Association of University Women, the Assistance League, any chamber orchestra benefit—their requests got a very warm welcome. But nothing for Little League, Pop Warner, et al.; that was not what Trader Joe’s was about.
Joe Coulombe (Becoming Trader Joe: How I Did Business My Way and Still Beat the Big Guys)