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A warehouse club (or wholesale club) is a retail store, usually selling a wide variety of merchandise, in which customers may buy large, wholesale quantities of the store's products, which makes these clubs attractive to both bargain hunters and small business owners. The clubs are able to keep prices low due to the no-frills format of the stores. In addition, customers may be required to pay annual membership fees in order to shop.
Membership in a warehouse club superficially resembles that in a consumers' cooperative, but lacks key elements including cooperative ownership and democratic member control. The use of members' prices without cooperative ownership is also sometimes used in bars and casinos.
In 1983, James (Jim) Sinegal and Jeffrey H. Brotman opened the first Costco warehouse in Seattle. Sinegal had started in wholesale distribution by working for Sol Price at FedMart. Also in 1993, Costco and Price Club agreed to merge operations, after Price declined an offer from Sam Walton and Walmart to merge Price Club with Sam's Club. Costco's business model and size were similar to those of Price Club, which made the merger more natural for both companies. The combined company took the name PriceCostco, and memberships became universal, meaning that a Price Club member could use their membership to shop at Costco and vice versa. PriceCostco boasted 206 locations generating $16 billion in annual sales. PriceCostco was initially led by executives from both companies, but in 1994, the Price brothers left the company to form Price Enterprises, a warehouse club chain in Central America and the Caribbean unrelated to the current Costco.
As of 2009[update], the three largest warehouse club chains operating in the United States are BJs, Costco, and Sam's Club. BJ's Wholesale Club is one of the smaller competitors, with stores located primarily in the Eastern United States. Costco and Sam's Club are the largest chains. Costco has locations in seven other nations including Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Sam's Club, a division of Walmart, claims a membership base of 47 million persons and 602 stores across the United States (as of June 2019).
- BJ's Wholesale Club, operates in the U.S. only
- City Club, operates in Mexico only
- Costco, operates in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the UK, Australia, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries
- Makro, operates in Europe, South Africa, Pakistan and other places; previously operated in the U.S., Venezuela & the Philippines.
- PriceSmart, operates in Central America and Caribbean; previously operated in Asia-Pacific region
- S&R Membership Shopping, operates in the Philippines only
- Sam's Club, operates in the U.S., Mexico and other countries
- Wholesale Club, operates in Canada only
- American Wholesale Club (1986–1989)
- Buyers Club, a Denver-based independently owned chain
- Club Wholesale, turned into office supplies stores, then folded
- Fedco, bankruptcy in 1999 (most stores were bought by Target Stores)
- GEM & GEX Membership Department Stores (required membership like a warehouse club)
- Gemco, 1959–1986, owned by Lucky Stores
- HomeClub, a home improvement warehouse, later became HomeBase and then folded in 2000
- Max-Club, owned by SuperValu (United States)
- PACE Membership Warehouse, owned by Kmart, merged with Sam's Club
- Price Club, merged with Costco in 1993
- Price Savers Wholesale Club, merged with PACE Warehouse Club, then merged with Sam's Club
- Sam's Club, in Canada 2003–2009
- SourceClub, owned by Meijer, from 1992 to 1994. Only had seven locations, all in Michigan, but helped loosen restrictions on who can become members industry-wide.
- Super Saver, merged with Sam's Club (Southeast US)
- The Wholesale Club, merged with Sam's Club
- Titan Warehouse Club Inc., an early warehouse concept in Canada based in Calgary with locations in Toronto/Kitchener/Stoney Creek areas in the 1985–1994
- Warehouse Club, was a public company
Alcohol sales without a membership in the U.S.
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Many jurisdictions prohibit the discounting of liquor for promotional reasons, meaning that even in warehouse clubstores, members and non-members will pay the same price. Several examples in the United States are included below:
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- Media related to Warehouse clubs at Wikimedia Commons