How Costco Won Me Over

I live in a small, rural town in Northern California that’s been waiting for Costco to come for about ten years, and now it’s finally happening! Costco opens July 19, 2018. Some people have waited for Costco with barely contained excitement at the prospect of new jobs and enhance shopping possibilities, while others have anticipated Costco’s opening with deep concerns about the future of some local businesses. As a communications professional, it’s been interesting to see how Costco approaches the community in which it is about to open, including how its employees handle the fact that not everyone is thrilled about their arrival.

The new store will be located south of town on Airport Boulevard and will include the warehouse products it is famous for, as well as groceries, gas, glasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, photo printing, a pharmacy, a bakery, a deli, and more. Like many big businesses, Costco does its homework. It studies an area to determine whether the population base will support its economic success. Clearly, Ukiah made the cut.

When I first heard we might get a Costco, I felt mixed. I’d love to have more shopping choices in town. We don’t even have a Target. Local businesses who want to stay afloat cannot afford to bring in highly specialized items or large quantities of goods at discounted prices, so I have to go online or travel at least an hour away for those. On the other hand, I value the business owners in my community and I know the ones who are forced to compete with Costco are likely to lose.

So how did Costco win me over?

To be fair, I was never on the corner protesting against warehouse stores, so Costco didn’t have to turn a “no” to a “yes,” but rather a “maybe” into a “yes.” My personal shopping philosophy has always been to shop at locally owned businesses first, and even pay a small premium there, but not to be a slave to the shop-local dogma.

The first thing that began to win me over was Costco’s reputation for paying fair wages and providing good working conditions.

The first thing that began to win me over was Costco’s reputation for paying fair wages and providing good working conditions. On its website, Costco includes information about its sustainability commitment that includes things like “take care of our employees” and “support the communities where our employees and members work” and “operate efficiently and in an environmentally responsible manner.” I dig this stuff.

Then, a month ago, they reached out to me as a local blogger and asked if I’d like to write about them. Their only requirement was to share the news that they’re opening and to let folks know they were offering special deals for people who purchased memberships early  As someone in public relations, I know they are supposed to sound fired up about their prospective opening, but it felt like they were truly excited about it.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting in my office downtown when a team of three polite and enthusiastic people with Costco shirts asked if I might be interested in becoming a Costco member. They did not know I was writing a blog on the subject. They’d been to every business on the block and planned to continue their canvassing until they’d covered the bulk of the business district. The team consisted of two Ukiah store managers, and a membership/outreach guy. One manager was from Eureka and another was transferring from Rohnert Park, though she was originally from Sacramento. Knowing they were from Northern California somehow made me feel like they might better understand how to support the Ukiah community.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I liked them as much as I did, except to say that they weren’t the least bit pushy, they genuinely seemed to like working for Costco, and they clearly believed a Costco membership was a great thing. I asked the guy from Eureka whether they’d met much resistance, given our small-town suspicion of warehouse stores. Instead of getting defensive, he said, “I’m from Eureka. I get it.” Then he went on to tell me in great detail why he liked Costco and all about the Costco Membership options. The other guy occasionally chimed in about various things he’d ordered for his mom for Christmas through the years, and I began to wonder if there is anything Costco doesn’t sell. (Check out their grocery offerings here. I challenge you to come up with a grocery item they don’t have.)

I opted for the Executive Membership for $120, as opposed to the regular $60 membership, because if you purchase the Executive Membership, you get 2 percent back on qualified (Kirkland) purchases and, if you sign up before the store opens July 19, Costco will give you $60 worth of Kirkland merchandise and a $20 gift card that can be used on anything in the store. Basically, there’s no downside to purchasing the more expensive membership if you do it before July 19. If the 2 percent rebate doesn’t cover the cost of the Executive Membership, you can just downgrade to the regular membership next year. Click here or visit the folks in the pop up tent in front of the store to purchase your membership before July 19.

I know change (even positive change) can be hard, and Costco’s arrival will be a big change. I hope having a Costco in town will help a lot more people than it hurts, that Costco will bring needed jobs, increased tax revenues, and a wider variety of goods and services to our area. I believe it will.