ALDI Joins the Fray
Other ALDI eccentricities: you bag your own groceries (supply your own bag or buy a huge plastic one for a dime), you need a quarter to liberate a grocery cart (refunded if you return it), you pay by cash or debit card only (no checks, no credit cards), and you can't telephone the store--"another way to pass on the savings," Snider says. "We don't have an office." But you can bring back any product you're unsatisfied with, and the store manager will give you a refund as well as a replacement. "Because people don't know some of our labels," Snider says, "quality is important."
In the alternative press, Aldi is reputed to be harshly anti-union--a charge the company denies. But there's no question that part of its cost-cutting strategy is to have as few employees as possible. "Typically we start with ten staff," Snider says. "Sales dictate how many people we can hire."
ALDI was started in the 1940s by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht--the name is a truncation of "Albrecht Discount." The brothers didn't get along and split the company into ALDI Nord (north) and ALDI Sued (south). ALDI Sued owns all the ALDIs in the United States. Through a family trust, Theo Albrecht owns Trader Joe's, which also is known for its small stores, in-house brands, and low prices. Somewhere at the top of the pyramid, the two ALDIs are still linked, but as a privately owned company, it's allowed to keep a lot of secrets. And it does. Both brothers, in their late eighties and reputedly Germany's richest men, are fanatically private, in a Howard Hughes-kind of way, but the company is still in the family, owned by what has been described as "a complicated series of trusts."