Retail store chains face tough times because of the slow economy and competition from Amazon and other on-line sellers. But Costco Wholesale’s sales are up, its profits are up and its stock price is up.
What’s noteworthy about Costco, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, is how well it treats its employees. “If you treat customers with respect and employees with respect, good things will happen,” CEO Craig Jelinek told Bloomberg.
Costco is the second largest retail store chain in the United States, and is fast gaining on Wal-Mart, the largest. Here are some facts and figures about the two chains.
- Average hourly pay for Costco employees is $20.89 an hour, versus $12.67 for Wal-Mart.
- 88 percent of Costco employees have company sponsored health insurance, in which they pay less than one-tenth of the cost of the premium. Wal.Mart says “more than half” of its employees have health insurance.
- CEO Craig Jeninek got a base salary of $650,000 a year, plus a $200,000 bonus, plus stock options worth $1.2 million. Wal-Mart’s CEO got a base salary of $1.3 million , plus a $4.4 million cash bonus, plus $13.6 million in stock.
- While Costco is doing well, Wal-Mart is in trouble
Costco overall is a no-frills operation. It has no public relations department, and Bloomberg reporters were able to talk to the CEO directly. Costco does not hire managers out of business school. Its managers are promoted from within.
Its prices, according to Bloomberg, are competitive with Amazon, which Costco managers see as its chief competitive threat. Profit margins are thin. About 80 percent of Costco’s gross profit comes from its annual membership fee.
Costco is not necessarily an exception, according to Bloomberg. Nordstrom, The Container Store, Sephara, REI and Whole Foods Market, all know for treating employees well, are also doing well in the marketplace. It is true that Amazon, which is not known for treating employees well, also is successful, but maybe they could still be profitable if they treated their warehouse workers better.
A lot of people assume that being callous toward people is always realistic and treating people decently is always naive, but Costco’s experience shows this isn’t so. Treating employees as assets instead of costs can be good business price. Bertrand Russell once wrote that if human beings all knew what was in their self-interest, most would be better people than they are and the world would be a better place.