1. German supermarket empire Aldi Nord owns California-based chain Trader Joe’s, which was started by Joe Coulombe (now 80) who started the company to cater to well-traveled consumers with items that reminded them of living abroad. He sold TJ to Germany’s Albrecht family in 1979.
2. German entrepreneur Theo Albrecht oversaw Trader Joe’s from 1979 until his death in 2010. When he was 17, Theo was kidnapped for 17 days for a ransom of $2 million. During WW2, Theo served in Rommel's Afrika Korps until he was captured by US troops in Tunisia in 1945.
3. Upon their release from prisoner-of-war camps, Theo and his older brother Karl returned to a decimated city. They took over their mother's corner shop, and quickly expanded it, opening shops that, out of necessity, sold a small number of essential items in no-frills ambience.
4. The goods were not displayed on shelves but in cardboard boxes stacked on wooden pallets. Within a decade, as Germany's economic recovery gathered pace, the brothers owned more than 100 stores. By 1961 they renamed the retail chain Aldi, a contraction of "Albrecht discount".
5. Noted recluses, Theo and Karl, built the Aldi Empire to over 8,000 stores worldwide, buying Trader Joe’s in 1979, giving them a vital US footprint, and eventually placing the brothers in Forbes's richest list, with a combined fortune of $40 billion in 2010.
6. The kidnapping and his military experiences influenced Theo’s personal life (it is said he moved around in an armored car and took a different route each day) and business practices - Trader Joe’s is famously tight-lipped about its suppliers or how the company is run.
7. Aldi became one of the most profitable supermarket chains by sticking to its motto of "best quality, lowest price". Its operations are run with military precision and secrecy - Aldi managers were forbidden to talk to the press and even to colleagues in other districts.
8. Carrying fewer SKUs (5,000 vs 10,000 or more at competitors such as Whole Foods, Kroger’s, and Safeway) and striking a no-frills yet “we’re your neighborhood store” hyperlocal vibe has helped Trader Joe’s double sales/square foot vs the competition.
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