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Getting on the ALDI Train: a story about non-traditional relationship-based practices

Updated: Mar 18



Years ago, my parents got on the ALDI train in our hometown. They loved it. But I just didn’t get it. 


For those unfamiliar, according to Wikipedia, “Aldi is the common company brand name of two German multinational family-owned discount supermarket chains operating over 12,000 stores in 18 countries. The chain was founded by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht in 1946, when they took over their mother's store in Essen.”* 


So, basically ALDI is a German grocery chain that is growing strong in the United States. They have very low prices, and the experience is intentionally no-frills. You can find items there that you can’t find anywhere else, and there are no baggers but rather just a long counter after the checkout area where you can pull your cart up and take your time to box or bag your own groceries. It’s not for those who want the white-glove treatment. 


Now why share an article of praise for a company that, at cursory glance, does the opposite of what I seem to have made my career in facilitating: providing the best service possible by holding a guest or client’s hand to make things as easy as possible for them. Well, it’s because, while ALDI may be more do-it-yourself, it has at its core the thing that’s at the core of my coaching: relationships. 


ALDI clients are very loyal. I saw this in my parents and my friends who got on the ALDI train. And, as I mentioned, I just didn’t get it. I did try it, though got immediately turned off when I was required to magically produce a quarter to get a cart. A quarter? Really? Who carries change anymore? I found it so silly and don’t think I even went in. 


Years went by and friend after friend got on the ALDI train, but I remained at a distance. Until one day, now in my 40s, when a coworker brought me a calzone for lunch that his family had brought home from ALDI. Just one minute and 15 seconds in the microwave later, I was sold. Let me tell you, that calzone changed my life and I have had—on a low estimate—dozens of them since. 


I went back to ALDI. I put my prepared quarter in the cart and released it from its chain and went inside, side-by-side with a trusted guide who also couldn’t believe I had never gotten on the ALDI train. And I left with a cartful of goodies for way less than I would have spent at other grocery stores that I frequently patronized. I found incredible imported European foods that brought back memories of trips to Europe and family dishes I had enjoyed when I was younger, along with staples for a fraction of the name-brand cost at other outlets. 


I was so impressed by the speed and efficiency of the checkout process. If you ever want to see someone excel at their job as a result of what can only be attributed to a great training program, just observe the ALDI cashiers in action. I gleefully bagged my own groceries into my reusable shopping bags at the do-it-yourself bagging counter behind the checkout area, packing them full to reduce my carry load from my truck to my home on the back end, making sure my bananas and eggs and avocados were on top and not buried under canned goods (a concept seemingly lost nowadays on most professional baggers), and even took some of the reused display boxes they gave out to help with the carrying process. 


Now, a few years and countless ALDI runs later, I’m fully onboard the ALDI train. I still don’t carry change, but do keep a special ALDI quarter hidden under the mug rug in my truck’s cupholder, always there for when I need to stop in for some spaetzle or keto-friendly no-sugar-added ice cream, of which they have a great selection for sugar-free people like me. Each time, I discover a new treasure there, from new cheeses to their always-fun-to-browse aisle of everything you never knew you needed in home décor or seasonal merchandise. 


I’ve observed people with their ALDI quarters. Some people even have special ALDI quarter keeper or quarter-mimicking keychains (google it)! It’s a whole culture of ALDI shoppers, made up of those on a budget trying to save on their grocery bill to those high-end clients who enjoy the experience just the same. The ALDI quarter has become a novelty, and the topic of fun conversation with friends of mine who now sit by my side on the ALDI train. 


ALDI gets relationships, but it’s not in a traditional sense. ALDI requires you to take a leap of faith with them before you enter the doors, but when you do you learn that their efficiency and the non-traditional grocery shopping experience can be incredibly delightful and day-making.  

As a bonus, because of the quarter-for-a-cart (which you get back, by the way) concept, the ALDI parking lots are cart-free. It’s so neat and organized, and if there’s one thing my obsessive and compulsive tendencies love it’s order in a space that traditionally for other businesses in a similar space is chaotic. 


I’ve taken many lessons from ALDI over the last few years in this regard: bringing order to what is traditionally confusing and creating systems that guests and clients, once they try, come to appreciate and advocate for, which in turn creates a whole culture and group of loyal advocates who understand the value in what you’re providing. 


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*Wikipedia doesn’t capitalize ALDI, but on the official ALDI site they spell their brand in all caps, so I’m honoring that for the purposes of this article anywhere except in the directly quoted text from Wikipedia.” 


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Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty 


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This article was co-published on the AYM High blog and askunclemarty.com on March 14, 2024. 

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