I’ve been working as a Trader Joe’s Sign Artist for the past few months, a job that is unseen and unheard most of the time, but right up my alley. For those who have never been to a Trader Joe’s I highly recommend you try it out. They have a great deal of healthy food options and unique specialty foods such as Gluten Free and Cruelty Free products. I’ll let Wikipedia give you a kind of overview of what TJ’s is all about:
Trader Joe’s describes itself as “your neighborhood grocery store” or “your unique grocery store”. Products sold include gourmet foods, organic foods, vegetarian food, unusual frozen foods, imported foods, domestic and imported wine and beer (where local law permits), “alternative” food items, and basics like bread, cereal, eggs, dairy, coffee and produce. Non-food items include personal hygiene products, household cleaners, vitamins, pet food, plants, and flowers.
Many of the company’s products are environmentally friendly. In October 2007, Trader Joe’s began to phase out foods imported from China amid concerns that standards on “organic” products from the country aren’t as stringent as they should be. Between February 2008 and April 2008, Trader Joe’s phased out single-ingredient products from China due to concerns over tainted goods.
Trader Joe’s maintains low prices by having smaller and plainer stores, using plainer packaging, and carrying a smaller variety of products and getting more turnaround on products they do carry, which enables the purchase of larger quantities of perishable items closer to the expiration date at better prices, knowing that they can be sold within shelf-life parameters. Individual products are also discontinued more often than at larger grocery chains, due to increased costs, poor sales, or to free up space for new items.
Every sign in Trader Joe’s is hand drawn by a team of (two to four) skilled local artists hired for the sole purpose of advertising, designing, and marketing Trader Joe’s products with their own personal style. Somewhere, behind the scenes at every single Trader Joe’s is a miniature Artist’s studio complete with chalk-markers, paint, paper, copier, printers, possibly a computer with photoshop on it, and much more. Some Trader Joe’s artists have enough room to work (mine has a whole upper floor with a kind of attic in it) but some are so small the artists have to work side-by-side with backstocked food or underneathe stairwells. Wherever they can fit really!
The most important thing to know about the sign artist position is that the artists are local, and as such make each individual Trader Joe’s a local market rather then a national franchise that appears copied and pasted all over the country. Take a look at the labels and signage when you enter a Meijers or a Target,.. they use the same printed out signs in every store and in my opinion it is entirely souless advertising, and it also shows a lack of awareness and caring for the communities their stores are set up in.
That being said there’s kind of a running joke among the other artists I work with concerning the pointlessness of our job. At times its easy to feel as if the majority of Americans don’t even read or take notice to signs inTrader Joe’s even when they are practically screaming with color in front of them. There have been numerous occasions when I was working on the store floor and a customer couldn’t find what they’re looking for even when a giant hand-drawn sign was right in front of their face. It can be frustrating spending an hour working on something and then having people not even glance at it. I think overstimulation is part of the American psyche at this point especially when it comes to advertising. We are bombarded by advertising everywhere we go and to a great extent we’ve adjusted the way we look at the world to tune out all the crap yelling out at us to buy something.
In all seriousness when was it okay to advertise above the urinals? Or add a television with a loop of the same commercial built into a hand dryer? Or sell the side-doors of the family minivan for advertising space?