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The warehouse clubs

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 4, 2001

Sam's Club

Items stocked: 4,200

Membership fee: $30 for business, $35 for individual, $100 for elite status.

Stores: 481 in United States, plus 53 in seven other countries.

Annual revenues: $26.8-billion, up 8.1 percent, in 2000

Operating income: $850-million, up 23 percent

Thumbnail: Sam Walton's version of a membership club accounts for about a tenth of the annual revenues of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world biggest retailer. Does not compete for customers with Wal-Mart stores because the clubs carry upscale items not carried in the discount stores. Even the store label dog food (Member's Mark) is different from the store brand in Wal-Mart Supercenters (Old Roy). Dropped word "wholesale" from its name to settle a Better Business Bureau dispute in North Carolina. Accepts only Discover Card.

Costco Wholesale Corp.

Items stocked: 3,800

Membership fee: $45 for individuals or business, $100 for executive membership with more benefits.

Stores: 237 in the United States, plus 76 in six other countries.

Annual revenues: $31.6-billion, up 17 percent, in 2000

Net income: $631-million, up 59 percent

Thumbnail: Uses brand name-dropping to enhance image and differentiate itself. Even its private label tires say "by Michelin" on them. Average store generates an industry-leading $105-million a year in sales. So even though it has fewer stores than Sam's, Costco sells more goods. Spending up to $1.1-billion on expansion this year. Finally replaced the $1.50 hot dog and soda stands out front with a small walk-up restaurant. Claims it is wholesale because restaurants buy food there and resell it. Accepts only American Express.

BJ's Wholesale Club Corp.

Membership fee: $40 for individual or business, more for Premier status.

Items: 6,500

Stores: 118, mostly on the East Coast.

Annual revenues: $4.93-billion, up 17 percent, in 2000

Net income: $131-million, up 18 percent

Thumbnail: Stores carry more items than the other clubs, especially groceries, and look more like conventional supermarkets. While Sam's and Costco carry only two or three brands of paper towels, BJ's has four or five. Split off in 1997 from Waban Inc., one-time operator of the HomeBase home-improvement store chain. The only club to accept all credit cards.

SOURCE: companies; SEC filings; In Sam We Trust, by Bob Ortega.

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