Costco spreading responsible retail

From Nashville is Talking, here's "Busy Mom's" humorous take on how she recently cheated on "Sam" in an illicit affair with Costco.

And on a more serious note, check out the Costco facts and figures at the end of the post (there's no source mentioned, so take it with a grain of salt). I've always heard that Costco is a fairly progressive company.

In fact, Costco is proving that treating your employees well is good for business:

The market's view of Costco speaks volumes about the so-called Wal-Martization of the U.S. economy. True, the Bentonville (Ark.) retailer has taken a public-relations pounding recently for paying poverty-level wages and shouldering health insurance for fewer than half of its 1.2 million U.S. workers. Still, it remains the darling of the Street, which, like Wal-Mart and many other companies, believes that shareholders are best served if employers do all they can to hold down costs, including the cost of labor.

Surprisingly, however, Costco's high-wage approach actually beats Wal-Mart at its own game on many measures. BusinessWeek ran through the numbers from each company to compare Costco and Sam's Club, the Wal-Mart warehouse unit that competes directly with Costco. We found that by compensating employees generously to motivate and retain good workers, one-fifth of whom are unionized, Costco gets lower turnover and higher productivity. Combined with a smart business strategy that sells a mix of higher-margin products to more affluent customers, Costco actually keeps its labor costs lower than Wal-Mart's as a percentage of sales, and its 68,000 hourly workers in the U.S. sell more per square foot. Put another way, the 102,000 Sam's employees in the U.S. generated some $35 billion in sales last year, while Costco did $34 billion with one-third fewer employees.

Bottom line: Costco pulled in $13,647 in U.S. operating profit per hourly employee last year, vs. $11,039 at Sam's. Over the past five years, Costco's operating income grew at an average of 10.1% annually, slightly besting Sam's 9.8%. Most of Wall Street doesn't see the broader picture, though, and only focuses on the up-front savings Costco would gain if it paid workers less. But a few analysts concede that Costco suffers from the Street's bias toward the low-wage model. "Costco deserves a little more credit than it has been getting lately, [since] it's one of the most productive companies in the industry," says Citigroup/Smith Barney retail analyst Deborah Weinswig. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams says that Sam's pays competitively with Costco when all factors are considered, such as promotion opportunities.

Hopefully Costco is planning more expansion around the South. Currently there are Costco stores in Alabama (3), Florida (18), Georgia (5), North Carolina (5), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (3), and Virginia (14). Curiously, there are none in Arkansas.