Why I'm holding on to my CostCo card

My name's Jennie Phipps and I'm a shopper addicted to Costco.

Costco isn't much to look at -- just cement everywhere. But the quality of the merchandise vs. the prices please me and I'm apparently not the only one. Geezeo survey reported by MainStreet.com, found that Costco shoppers spend an average of $268 per month, compared with $75.98 spent by BJ's shoppers and $168.82 shelled out by Sam's Club shoppers.

None of this surprises me. Costco makes it sensible to spend money.

Two months ago, I fed 125 people lunch at a day-long conference. The facility's favorite caterer wanted $1,250, plus $500 more for coffee, snacks and sodas. Publix market offered to do sandwiches and salads for $600 and I could buy coffee, packaged cookies and sodas, paper plates, etc., off the shelves for about $150 more.

My old friend Costco was the clear winner, selling ham, roast beef and turkey sandwich platters to serve 20 at $27 each. I also bought pre-packaged salad fixings and mountainous bags of potato chips, Starbucks' coffee, sodas, water, fresh-baked cookies and individually wrapped bittersweet chocolates, plus plates, cups and plastic ware. The staff packed it all in boxes for me. The total was less then $400. Who could resist?

My kids flew into town for Thanksgiving, and their Black Friday mission included shopping for ski clothes. I schlepped them to Costco where they found well-fitting and good-looking down jackets for $35, ski mittens for $10 and waterproof pants for $19. We also went to two sporting goods stores and neither sold anything that could compete price wise.

I've shopped at Costco's competitors, BJs and Sam's Club, and they have their strengths. BJs is smaller and sells items in smaller packages, which is better for small families. Sam's is ubiquitous. Wherever you go, there's a club.

A year ago, my son got married in Mexico on the beach near the Yucatan town of Tulum. The area didn't have reliable electrical power, but it did have a Sam's Club where we bought beer, wine and booze for the reception. It felt just like home. Same layout and most of the same merchandise at comparable prices.

For me, the persuasive difference is the way Costco manages its employees. They pay them fairly and offer good benefits even for part timers, so they stick around and are motivated to do their jobs well. The result is a well-oiled operation that moves shoppers through the checkout process quickly and keeps the merchandise well stocked and in the case of meat, bakery and produce, fresh and well packaged.

I just let my Sam's Club card expire because every time I go there, the checkout lines are long, the cashiers are unfamiliar with the pricing, and they are frequently impatient, sometimes downright surly.

I like to say I'm frugal; some people would say I'm cheap. But to me price isn't everything. If I walk out of the store annoyed more than once or twice, I won't be back.

Costco has long-time employees who recognize me and treat me like the good customer I am. When a product doesn't measure up, they take it back without question. When the checkout lines are long, they immediately open more lanes. When I complained that they weren't selling my favorite brand of stuffed olives anymore, an acceptable substitute brand appeared.

I don't own Costco stock, but maybe I should. As Geezeo says, "Don't expect a slowdown at Costco anytime soon."
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