You’ve heard the news by now that Earth Fare, the health and wellness supermarket, will be closing its location at The Collection of Forsyth, along with all of its stores across the country.
Some were disappointed, but far more saw the announcement as an opportunity.
This could be it: the moment that Forsyth County gets a Trader Joe’s.
A segment of residents have been vocal about their desire for the California-based company to open one of their “fresh format” grocery stores in Forsyth County for the past few years.
Sure, Forsyth County has several other grocery options. Kroger and Publix have several. Sprouts Farmers Market jumped into the county a few years ago. Ingles has a few locations left (though it seems more interested in turning local stores into car dealerships). And don’t forget about the bevy of ethnic groceries, particularly in south Forsyth.
But Trader Joe’s (and Whole Foods, to a lesser extent) has a special allure to Forsyth County residents.
After Earth Fare made its announcement Monday, residents quickly mobilized on Facebook, sharing the link to Trader Joe’s website where people can “request a TJ’s in my city.”
“There are no guarantees,” the company website reads, “but being wanted matters to us.”
In reality, Trader Joe’s considers a number of factors when deciding to open a new store, according to Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s public relations director.
So if Forsyth County is going to get a Trader Joe’s, it’s going to have to meet a small but significant list of requirements.
But first, a little history
Trader Joe’s grew out of a small chain of stores, called Pronto Markets, in Los Angeles in 1958. The business model was different then. It was all about speed (hence, Pronto). They were more like convenience stores.
But founder Joe Coulombe saw a demographic shift during the early ‘60s and changed his strategy. The first Trader Joe’s store didn’t open until 1967 in Pasadena, Calif., and it featured a nautical theme that is still at the heart of the company’s identity. For instance, employees are called “crew members” and wear tropical-patterned shirts.
Five years later, the company introduced what it calls a “game changer”: its first private label product – granola.
That’s the source of Trader Joe’s magic, the company says. Private label products have allowed it to remove fees for marketing, middlemen and slotting products. That saves Trader Joe’s money, and it passes that savings onto customers, according to the company.
Where things stand today
Trader Joe’s has A LOT of customers now. Currently, Trader Joe’s has 508 stores in 42 states and Washington D.C., including seven in Georgia.
But none of those stores are in Forsyth County. The closest one is in Norcross/Peachtree Corners. Athens, Atlanta, Buckhead, Marietta, Sandy Springs and Roswell also have a Trader Joe’s.
So what do those areas have that convinced TJ’s to set sail and drop anchor in their community?
Naturally, Trader Joe’s needs people to shop at their stores, so the company considers a community’s population.
Consider the population at Trader Joe’s Georgia locations:
- Athens-Clarke County: 127,064
- Atlanta: 498,044 (and the Midtown area where the Trader Joe’s store is located is a premier commercial and cultural hub)
- Buckhead: 78,676
- Marietta: 61,048
- Norcross: 16,563 (the store also serves Peachtree Corners, the newest and largest city in Gwinnett County, with 43,509 residents as of 2018)
- Sandy Springs: 106,739
The city of Cumming has 6,284 residents, according to the latest population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, though Forsyth County’s continued growth figures to make it an attractive location.
Forsyth County has an estimated 236,612 residents as of 2018, and it’s projected to grow faster than any other county in the metro Atlanta region over the next 30 years, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“We certainly have certain numbers of households that we think we need to have that can support a successful Trader Joe’s,” said Bryan Palbaum, Trader Joe’s president and chief operations officer, on an episode of the company’s podcast, “Inside Trader Joe’s.”
“When we get to those numbers, and it makes sense, we’ll open a store.”
If Trader Joe’s is going to open a store, it has to be able to get items there, so distribution is critical.
“Always consider distribution,” Palbaum said, “how far our warehouses are going to be from the stores in which we’re opening makes sure that we can supply those stores on a regular basis.”
TJ’s 352,917-square-foot Georgia distribution center is in Suwanee, at 2935 Shawnee Industrial Way.
That’s about 17.8 miles to 3140 Ronald Reagan Boulevard, where the doomed Earth Fare store is located, according to MapQuest.
Which makes Forsyth County closer than every other Georgia Trader Joe’s store except for Norcross, which is 15.1 miles away from the distribution center. Athens is 44.6 miles away, while Marietta is 30.3 miles, Roswell is 27.1, Atlanta is 26.2, Buckhead is 25.2 and Sandy Springs is 24.
One of the few bruises to Trader Joe’s reputation is its parking.
“We do have kind of that reputation of crazy parking lots,” said Tracy Anderson, senior vice president of real estate and construction with the company.
So along with a location’s accessibility, visibility and square footage, parking has become an increasingly important factor for the company, especially in the suburbs where most residents drive from place to place.
“We would like a nice big beautiful parking lot,” Anderson said.
Yes, it’s a nebulous factor, but one that Trader Joe’s apparently considers heavily.
The company targets a certain number of openings each year. In 2019, the company targeted 30 to 35 openings a year, according to Bane.
“We won’t open a store just because we can,” says Dan Bane, chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's. “We want to open a store that’s run by the right kind of people doing the right kinds of things, and that’s really important.”
Trader Joe’s says it puts a premium on customer service, so there’s got to be quality people to operate the store, Bane said.
“The only thing that holds us back is having the right number of captains and mates to open up great stores,” he said.
And finally, those location requests.
They read them.
“We always appreciate the passion of some of the neighborhoods that do send in their requests,” Bryan Palbaum said, “and they can be very creative at times.”
So keep them coming, Forsyth County, and this might turn out to be the moment you get a Trader Joe’s.