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From Small Business To Big Business: Costco Wholesale

Aug 15, 2008
If you own a small business there's a good chance you are already shopping at a Costco store near you. Based on sales volume Costco has become the largest wholesale membership chain in the world. So you might just have a store around the corner from you. Of course this wasn't always so. Now to say that Costco was ever really a small business wouldn't exactly be true. But how did the Costco we know today come about?
Well the history of Costco can actually be traced back to one man. He's known as the pioneer of the "warehouse store" retail concept. His name is Sol Price and he started the original warehouse store known as FedMart back in 1954. Eventually he would wind up selling this chain which is how we come to PriceClub. Sol's next effort came in 1976. That is the year he started PriceClub along with his son Robert Price. Together they would build PriceClub into the largest warehouse store operation in the country.

They started the business on the outskirts of San Diego, California. Initially they had just one store that was 100,000 square feet. Sol had managed to raise a little over 2 million dollars to start the business. During that very first year they managed about 16 million dollars in sales but they lost $750,000. It almost ruined them. Then one day Sol asked a customer what they were doing wrong? That's when he found out that they needed to open membership up to government employees. From there the business took off.

They catered primarily to small businesses and government employees. Knowing that they were less likely to bounce a check. They refused for many years to accept credit cards so that they could keep costs down. Credit card fees for retailers can really add up. They also kept their selection to a minimum but made it cheap to buy in bulk. They would typically only charge about 10% above wholesale cost. They made their profits through sheer volume. And they kept their overhead low.

So what does all this information about PriceClub have to do with Costco? Well Costco was started in 1983 by a former PriceClub employee named James D. Sinegal who had been a PriceClub executive vice president and who had worked with Sol Price at FedMart. James in fact was along with Sam's Club run by Wal-Mart PriceClub's main source of competition. But by 1992 Sam's Club was overtaking them both. So it was decided that PriceClub and Costco would merge into one company. Robert Price became chairman of the board and James Sinegal became CEO.

The new company was named PriceCostco Inc. This was an arrangement that was never going to work. Within a year the writing was on the wall so the company was once again split up. Only this time the company which would soon after be renamed Costco Wholesale Inc. managed to retain most of the store locations. Robert Price took other assets with him and formed Price Enterprises Inc.

Ultimately James D. Sinegal who had helped to found Costco would end up back in charge and to this day he still is. Along with Jeffrey Brotman another founder and chairman of the board. The company does over $60 billion a year in sales and has over 130,000 employees. It's only real rival is Sam's Club but Costco is the leader in its industry.

We mentioned Sol Price because without him Costco probably would not exist. He had an idea that turned out to be revolutionary. He essentially created a whole new way of selling to the public. He took a huge risk in doing so and almost lost it all. But he succeeded against the odds and instead of leaving a company as his legacy he left a whole industry. He is a man that had the drive to succeed and did. Do you have that kind of drive in you?
About the Author
Cash Miller is an experienced entrepreneur and speaker who has spent over a decade as a small business owner. His years of experience in small business cover a variety of topics. If you are looking for more small business help please check out http://www.smallbusinessdelivered.com
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