“How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart,” read the headline in the New York Times last Sunday. Old news, I thought to myself. We highlighted Costco founder Jim Sinegal in our Customers First Awards last year. Seemingly all the business magazines have written stories about the benevolent-yet-successful company, which manages to pay workers fairly, keep costs low and focus on long-term success. This has been known for years. What’s the news here, folks?
Guess it was news to some people: The piece has become the most emailed article on the Times’ Web site over the last seven days. That spot is almost always reserved for the likes of Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman or Frank Rich. Still, I highly doubt all that interest is really coming from investors or business readers. I think we have a hunger as a nation to do business with companies that do good–by way of their employees, their customers, and their shareholders–and that when people find them, they latch onto them with incredible loyalty. When we hear about them, we tell everyone we know about them, we forward emails about them, we go on “treasure hunts” in their stores (the one bit in the Times piece I hadn’t heard about–Sinegal’s focus on planting high-end products like Coach bags or plasma screen TVs to enhance the customer experience of finding gold like that in a discount warehouse). If Costco is any model, the best word-of-mouth buzz can’t be manufactured around some brand-new product or news–it comes from people finding out about who you are, why you believe in what you do, and how you do it by doing good.