‘Outside the Box’ with Erika Schnitzer: How Trader Joe’s Can Be An Example to Apartment Managers

Step into a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan and you’ll be greeted with a madhouse of customers maneuvering the tight aisles, and employees frantically restocking shelves and holding up “End of Line” signs, which keeps getting further and further away from the checkout. Yet the customers keep coming, loading their carts and waiting in line. This scene is not just at the holidays; it’s year-round.

The store doesn’t have sales; instead, it offers low prices all year long. But it doesn’t sacrifice in quality, either. The produce is fresh, the baked goods look like something you’d find at a gourmet bakery—at a fraction of the price—and none of the items have been sitting on the shelves for very long, at least according to the frequency of which employees restock the shelves. Oh, and they introduce new products year-round, in addition to seasonal specialties.

Obviously the store is doing something right if the crowds keep coming—and the customers aren’t particularly cranky after standing in such a long line. How do they do it, and what can the apartment industry learn about this brand?

  1. The employees provide great customer service. If a particular product is missing from the shelves, the employees are more than willing to search for a replacement in the back—and they’ll come find you in line once they’ve found it. Additionally, they never gesture toward an aisle when you ask where a particular product is; rather, they’ll walk you over to whatever it is you are looking for.
  2. They communicate. Even with tight layouts, they make sure shoppers know where the line begins and ends, and once shoppers reach the front of the line, they make sure that they are pointed in the right direction to the proper checkout line. Additionally, they have clear signage throughout the store talking about delivery times and prices.
  3. They provide a taste of one of their products. Every day, an employee cooks up a sample of one of their products. It’s not only something shoppers look forward to, but it’s a great way to highlight a particular product, often one that’s either new or seasonal. Again, clear signage ensures shoppers know exactly how much the item costs—and they don’t even have to go back to the aisle to find it. The product is front and center in a freezer by the tasting station.
  4. They let you off the hook if you don’t like something. Again, clear signage throughout the store lets shoppers know that if they try a product and don’t like it, they can bring it back.
  5. They make the experience fun—or at least more fun than the typical grocery shopping experience. The signs are colorful, and the packaging often includes cutesy catchphrases. It also helps that the employees are generally smiling and friendly—and seem to actually enjoy what they do.

Of course, apartment hunting and living may seem nothing like shopping at Trader Joe’s, but that doesn’t mean multifamily companies can’t take a page from the store’s book. Obviously, customer service is key, but when was the last time your on-site management team went out of its way to find an answer for a resident—no matter how inconsequential it seemed? Yes, this probably seems pretty basic, but make sure your team is actually doing this; it makes a huge difference in customer satisfaction!

Communication—again, probably pretty obvious. Do your residents know exactly who to call if a problem arises? Does your on-site staff effectively inform your residents of upcoming maintenance work and/or events?

As for getting a taste for what you have to offer, this might be a little trickier, but use your imagination!  Is there a way for you to provide prospects with “a taste” of what being a renter at your community is truly like?

Okay, so number four seems even trickier; clearly an apartment lease isn’t something that can be returned, but how might the industry use this tactic similarly?

As for making the apartment-shopping experience fun, this one’s easy. Do something different that prospects will remember. Many companies already may have great ideas that work for them, and while you can’t just steal these ideas, they can certainly inspire you.

If you do all these things, perhaps you’re more likely to have lines out your door, like Trader Joe’s oftentimes does. And who doesn’t want that?