Costco (NASDAQ:COST) was formed in 1983 by Jeffrey Brotman and Jim Sinegal. The first warehouse was opened in Seattle and, since then, they have established a further 571 across the USA and into the UK, Australia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. They now employ 147,000 people.
In the 2009 financial year, Costco turned over $71.4bn and made a profit of $1.8bn. At this level, they are the third largest warehouse chain in America (behind Kroger and Walmart). Their latest sales figures (January 2011) show an increased turnover of 12% from the corresponding period in 2010.
Costco’s strategy is very much the ‘no-frills’ approach with many of its products merely being retailed in the same packaging as they arrived in or even ‘in bulk’. They have their own line of items called the ‘Kirkland’ range, named after their original head office which was located in Kirkland, Washington. Named brands which compete with Kirkland or are, in Costco’s management’s opinion, overpriced, are quite likely to be refused shelf space.
Their way of handling customers is also unique. For example, you cannot just walk into Costco and start shopping. Instead you must become a member (and pay $50 a year for the privilege) as well as having to meet stringent requirements regarding your employment. They will only accept you if you are a public-sector worker (e.g. Local Authority, Civil Service, NHS, Armed Forces, Emergency Services etc), or a qualified professional (e.g. Engineering, Law, Finance etc.) Your membership card contains your photograph and cannot be ‘loaned out’ to family and friends.
If you are looking for a job with Costco, starting at the bottom need not be a handicap as the company has a policy of looking to recruit from its own ranks. In their own words, “Today, we have accountants, lawyers, buyers, and human resources personnel who began their careers as stockers or cashiers in our locations. We believe that Costco’s future officers are currently working in our warehouses, depots, and business centers, as well as in our Home and Regional Offices.”
To impress Costco’s recruitment officers, according to their website, employees must demonstrate, ambition, commitment, energy, integrity and a service-oriented mentality. They also insist that their staff ‘enjoy challenges and opportunities’.
Costco offer employees the full range of benefits:
Health benefits – 2 medical plans, 2 dental plans, pharmacy plan (drugs from $5 or 15% of price), vision plan (up to $60 towards examinations or eye-ware)
Financial – 401(k) pension scheme with company contributions increasing according to length of service, stock purchase plan (no broker’s fees)
Insurance– free life and accidental death insurance, short and long-term disability insurance, long-term care insurance
Care– dependent care assistance, independently run counseling
If you are looking for a job in retail but have a problem remembering product information, Costco may be the solution as one of its warehouses will typically only stock about a third of the range carried by a typical High Street supermarket.