My two favorite brands

Today I had a very good customer service experience, and a very bad one. The company responsible for the bad one shall remain nameless, but the very good one reminded me of a blog post I've been meaning to write for a long time.

I've been thinking a lot about brands lately. What makes a strong brand? What makes you keep coming back to a company? What companies make you feel good when you do business with them?

It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that knows me that the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my two favorite brands out there are Lush and Trader Joe's. A handmade cosmetics company and a specialty grocery store wouldn't seem to have a lot in common when you first look at them. But they do!

Both of them are constantly innovating their product line. They're trying new things, and adding new products. Sometimes, unfortunately, that means old favorites have to go. But there's always a sense of excitement in going to the store or to the web site and seeing something new to try. I have plenty of old favorites at both places, but I almost always try something new when I shop at Lush or Trader Joe's. They're also both liberal with samples, so I don't always have to buy to try.

You feel good about using their products, old or new. Trader Joe's avoids excess preservatives, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and all that other similarly cruddy stuff. Lush also avoids excess preservatives, and is pretty innovative in this area — selling many products that are solid and "naked" because as soon as you have water, you need preservatives. Both companies try to use wholesome, organic ingredients whenever possible.

They're both quirky. They're not afraid to name their products with hilarious puns or plays on words, like "Strawberry Feels Forever," or "So this Strawberry Walks into a Bar" (guess which product goes with which company). At Trader Joe's, employees wear Hawaiian shirts and use nautical terms. And if a cashier needs assistance, they ring a bell rather than droning an announcement over the PA. At Lush, they'll fill a splash pool up with a mountain of bubbles, or henna dye someone's hair in the middle of the shop. And they both — and this is important — NEVER play muzak. It might be classic rock, or 80s music, or reggae, but the music selection always seems to have been put on by somebody with a soul. And often with soul, too.

It's FUN to shop at Trader Joe's and Lush. And the employees seem like they're having fun, too — like they're genuinely well-treated and believe in the company they work for. I don't think I've ever encountered someone at either brand who wasn't genuinely enthusiastic about their products, from discussing Cabernet Pot Roast with a Trader Joe's cashier to the new facial serum bars with a Lush employee.

Perhaps most importantly, though, and probably because their employees are so happy with what they do, both companies have outstanding customer service. I wore an air cast for awhile due to a foot injury, and Trader Joe's was the only place where someone offered to help me out. Not only did she offer to help, she literally ran up to me and asked if there was anything she could get me. Trader Joe's also has a ridiculously liberal return policy, and employees never give you a hard time when you bring something back — even if you just didn't like it.

Lush, meanwhile, was the company I referenced at the beginning of this post, the one that I just had an ace customer service experience with. I'd ordered some perfume samples from their UK site (okay, so I really like to check out their new products, and they're available in the UK before the US), and two had arrived with issues with the bottles, one having fully leaked out. I emailed their customer service team, and they apologized profusely and promised to send me new ones, along with some other goodies. Said perfume and goodies arrived today, and let me tell you, they were pretty liberal with the goodies. Even more impressive, with two of the items, it was clear they'd matched the scents of the products — violet and vanilla — to the two perfumes. They didn't just throw any old thing in the box; somebody took the time to put some thought into what I would like based on the perfumes I wanted.

So here's to you, Lush and Trader Joe's, for getting it right in oddly similar ways. Lush, I should also commend you for your brilliant expansion into spas, and your vast and impressive commitment to the environment. Perhaps that's a topic for another post, but at the very least I'll close with this cool video Lush posted recently on its environmental policy.

PS, if you think violet is iffy as a product scent, I would like to introduce you to Tuca Tuca.

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