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Opinion: Prepare yourself for the joys of shopping at Costco

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It is with no small excitement that the residents of Springfield are awaiting the arrival of Costco.

There are already stores (or warehouses, technically) in St. Louis, Kansas City, Independence, St. Peters and Manchester, and one just across the border in Overland Park, Kansas. If you’ve been to a Costco at one of those locations, then you already know what to expect when the Springfield building opens on our northeast side. If you haven’t been to Costco, it seems likely you heard your friends talk about the shopping experience in glowing terms. The phrase, “They have everything there!” was created for a Costco shopping spree, especially during the holidays.

Being from San Diego, I had the benefit of going to Costco before it was cool to go to Costco. The original warehouse membership store was founded there by Sol Price, when he started his Price Club on July 12, 1976. Price had originally run an early rendition of what would look like a Target or Walmart today, known from 1954-1982 in San Diego as FedMart. I remember feeding my dog FedMart kibble and drinking gallons of FedMart grape soda, in those metal cans with the steel strap along the side.

The Price Club in San Diego was located about 15 minutes west of my parents’ house, in between their suburb and the Pacific Ocean. The original warehouse sat next to a city of San Diego public works yard and was adjacent to a number of industrial garages. Glamorous it was not. But once we paid for our coveted Price Club membership card, the whole world opened up. It was all there to buy: groceries, prime meats, seafood, liquor, TV sets, stereos, books, clothing, appliances, medicine, and all at lower prices and higher quality than his FedMart stores. We were hooked and Saturdays became “time to make a Price Club run.”

Fast forward to 1993, when Price Club merged with rival Costco and became PriceCostco until 1997, when it changed to the Costco name (Sol Price died in San Diego in 2009 at 93). There are now 782 Costco locations, with 543 in the United States, 100 in Canada and the rest around the world. These folks know how to move products, ranging from eyeglasses to cruise ship vacations, to solar panels, vitamins, prime rib and crab legs. You can buy a coffin at certain Costco locations.

If you’ve never been to a Costco, here are a few warnings:

It’s almost always crowded. Inside the store, in the parking lot and at the gas pumps, there are always a lot of anxious shoppers. Shop early or late, and be patient.

Plan accordingly during the holidays. People who shop at Costco for the major holidays are on a mission and they have a look in their eyes that says, “Stay out of my way!” Expect to find the seekers pushing two carts, filled with gift packs of Almond Roca, wine, liquor, books and meats.

Buy it now. It probably won’t be there next week. And if it is there, they moved it away from its logical place to some spot in the back by the lawn mowers.

Don’t get hypnotized by the displays. There is too much to see in one trip. Best to bring along an experienced friend.

Protect your ankles. Other shoppers will push their carts right into the back of your legs as they edge past the vast collection of 80-inch TVs, mouths agape.

Resist your urge to impulse buy. The running gag at Costco is that you went there for hot dogs, hamburgers and buns for your picnic, but left with a new box spring and mattress. It’s easy to buy a lot of stuff you think you need and can’t live without, including a 12-pound jar of cheese balls, a giant tub of red licorice and that big can of five-flavored popcorn. The pros bring a list and stick with it, so they don’t come home with an engagement ring (you can get those there too) and no hot dog buns.

Feast on the food: samples inside for free and pizza slices or huge hot dogs out in front for a few dollars.

Pay attention to how they organize the store. It can be hard to locate certain items that don’t seem logically placed together. The razor blades can be next to the paper towels. Ask for help from the staff, who always look busy as they rush around the building.

Costco introduced the no-frills “get it all here” shopping concept we’ve come to expect at Sam’s Club, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Costco warehouses won’t win any awards for glamorous architecture. They are cavernous, dusty, loud and crowded. That said, I’ve never seen one go out of business. Enjoy it when it gets here; you won’t be alone.

Steve Albrecht is a Springfield-based trainer, human resources consultant and employee coach. He can be reached at drsteve@drstevealbrecht.com.

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Bryan Altizer

Isn't it the same as SAMS club? I've been to Costco in KC and this seems redundant.... Members Mark-Kirklands do we only want it because it is not here? Reminds me when my father used to "smuggle" Coors beer to our family in the south back in the 70's....

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