The prices. The hot dogs. The free samples. Need we say more?
Costco is the pinnacle of what retail warehouse shopping should be. Its employees are treated well, it has an amazing stock of bulk products and people love hunting for bargains along its massive aisles.
The proof is in the numbers: Costco has a cultish fan base, as evidenced by the huge earnings it pulls in through membership fees. Those fees reached $584 million this year, up from $561 million in 2014, and represent a larger chunk of profit than store sales.
You probably already know that the name of its Kirkland brand comes from its former headquarters in Kirkland, Washington. And you might know that it spends basically no money on advertising, and that it promotes the majority of its employees from within its ranks. But if you want to be the ultimate devotee of the shopping mecca that is Costco, you need to know these facts.
1. It's the biggest importer of fine French wines.
Costco sells more than $1 billion of wine each year. Its wine buyers jet off to France each year to taste and select the best from Bordeaux, the Rhone and other regions. Costco takes its wine business seriously, from designing the look of its bottle labels to training its dozens of wine buyers about the product.
2. It's secretly one of the country's largest pizza chains, too.
OK, so it's not an official chain, but Costco has over 400 stores in the U.S., many with food courts. Nothing stops the masses from swarming around the pizza line when they need a break from lugging cartfuls of groceries around. The pizza slices are extra large, oily and cheesy -- the way pizza should be.
If you're not convinced, then consider Costco's "Pizza Hotline": you can call in to order pizzas ahead of time.
Other seriously awesome deals in the food court are the hot dog and soda combos -- they're only $1.50, and have stayed at that price for almost 30 years.
3. It's way ahead of big retailers' push for a higher minimum wage.
Costco pays its workers an average of almost $21 per hour. That's more than double the rate at Walmart, where a $10 minimum wage will be instituted by next February.
Lawmakers and labor advocates have long been calling for a wage hike. President Barack Obama even visited a Costco site in Maryland last year, using the retailer to highlight the urgent need to give more people a basic living wage. Meanwhile, companies have been racing to announce higher wages of their own -- Target, T.J. Maxx, Aetna and McDonald's, in addition to Walmart, are some of the big names that have entered the conversation this past year alone. But Costco outshines them by a long shot.
4. Costco is changing the way we shop, even more than Amazon is.
Warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club have a bigger impact on retail than e-commerce, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Between 1992 and 2013, warehouse clubs sales ballooned from $40 billion to $420 billion, a 10.5-fold increase, the researchers found. E-commerce grew from $35 billion to $348 billion, or nearly tenfold.
Costco sales in the U.S. alone increased by $50 billion between 2000 and 2013. Amazon, meanwhile, grew by $38 billion.
5. It has serious toilet paper game.
There's a lab at Costco, and it doesn't just test food. Toilet paper goes through the same rigorous treatment, as technicians check its whiteness and texture. (They use a spectrophotometer!) Costco sells over 1 billion rolls a year -- or enough to wrap around the world 1,200 times. "Feel it, crunch it," one technician says. Yep. They're obsessed.
6. Costco's founder learned about the business from a guy actually called Mr. Price.
Founder Jim Sinegal was a top exec under Sol Price, who created FedMart, the discount store that nearly all wholesale retailers, including Walmart and Sam's Club, model themselves after. And Price had a sense of humor. When some executives admiringly told him, “Sol, you are the father of everything we have inherited,” Price had this snappy reply: “I really wish I had worn a condom.”
Price opened FedMart in San Diego in the 1950s, and when it folded, he and his son launched Price Club in 1976. Price Club's mission was simple: a few thousand products in bulk and priced affordably. A few years later, Sinegal bought the retailer's model and opened Costco. (The two merged in 1992.)
7. At one point, Bibles were labeled as "fiction."
In 2013, Costco marked a small portion of its Bibles as "fiction," which made a lot of people pretty pissed. The company quickly issued an apology, saying that its distributors had mislabeled the books.
8. It sells this insane barrel-shaped sauna.
Could this be the key to becoming the most popular party host ever? Make sure you have a) a yard or even just some pavement to put this on, and b) an extra $3,999, because that's how much it'll cost you. It fits four people, is made with red cedar and has a tinted glass door!
9. And it stocks everything you need for when the world ends.
Here's a pyramid of food that'll feed four people for a year while you wait for the apocalypse to be over. It costs $3,800, but hey, it's survival of the fittest. (Looks like someone is already getting ready -- the product is currently out of stock.)
And while you're at it, you could prepare for looming death by buying this romantic heart-shaped urn too.
10. American Pie.
The apple pie from "American Pie" was reportedly bought at Costco, according to the film's IMDb page. As a refresher, that's the scene where Jason Biggs gets quite intimate with the pie, right before his dad walks in on him.
11. It's got a bit of aviation history.
Costco's original warehouse in San Diego was built in the airplane hangar of Howard Hughes.
12. At one time you could get a whole barrel of Jack Daniel's.
Costco once offered shoppers a "single barrel" of Jack Daniel's whiskey for $8,499.99. Walmart sold it too, but with a markup of more than $1,000.
Costco frequently partners with various alcohol companies, and its own Kirkland brand has also made an official version of luxury scotch The Macallan. And because it was under the Kirkland label, it sold for a lot cheaper than normal.