Costco Wholesale Corporation is central to the global warehouse membership club story. The company was founded in 1983 by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman but its history dates back to 1976 because of the merger with Price Club. Costco, originally known as Costco Companies, quickly grew in its first two years and became the 1st company to go from $0 to $3 billion in revenue within the 1st 3 years. The company held its IPO in 1985.
Price Club was founded in 1976 by the Price family. It was among the very first warehouse membership clubs and targeted small merchants and businesses. It also saw quick success and went public in 1980. The Price family turned down an offer to merge with Walmart’s Sam’s Club in favor of a more suitable match-up with Costco. Coincidentally, Costco founder Jim Sinegal got his start in the retail business working for Sol Price at his original membership club, FedMart.
The new company was formed in 1993. It owned 206 stores and was called PriceCostco for a time. The Price family eventually exit the business in favor of new operations resulting in the rebranding to Costco Wholesale Corporation. The Price family's new business is called PriceSmart and operates a chain of membership clubs in the Caribbean and Central America. Price Club’s first store, opened in an old Howard Hughes airplane hangar, is still in operation and known as Costco #401.
Today, Costco is based in Issaquah, Washington and it is among the largest businesses in the world. The company operates as a member-only big-box retailer claiming more than 118 million members, it is ranked #10 on the Forbes Fortune 500 list and is the 5th largest retailer internationally. In terms of scale, it is the largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods and rotisserie chickens. Rotisserie chickens are a long-standing tradition at Costco which pioneered their use. The chickens are sold for less than cost and used to attract business into the store.
The company operates through a network of subsidiaries that own warehouses in 11 countries, including the US and Puerto Rico. The company retails branded and private-label merchandise across verticals and categories and at “discounted” or bulk-rate prices. Product categories include grocery and frozen foods, apparel, sporting goods, electronics, auto care, appliances, housewares and even furniture. Nearly 70% of the stores are located in the US with another 13% in Canada and the remainder scattered around the globe.
In addition to retail, the company also provides many services including pharmacy, eye care, food & beverage and auto care centers. The company also operates more than 665 gas stations across its footprint and a robust eCommerce channel. Other services include delivery, travel and curbside pickup. As of the year-end calendar 2022, the company operated more than 840 stores and was on track to open new stores in the coming years. Total revenue in 2022 topped $226 billion, the company employs more than 304,000 individuals and it is a member of the S&P 500, the S&P 100 and the NASDAQ 100.