In terms of products, it's all here at the 155,000-square-foot warehouse at 805 Lighthouse Drive in Manatee County.
BRADENTON — There's been a lot of anticipation leading up to the opening of Costco here. It was one of the most persistent rumors I heard when I first started and it seems like every time I breathe the word "Costco" into the retail stratosphere a wave that can only be described as "fervent" crashes over the Herald-Tribune's website.
That's why it was kind of surreal for me to finally get to walk around the new 155,000-square-foot warehouse at 805 Lighthouse Drive on Wednesday, exactly a week before its Aug. 21 opening date.Discover, share and discuss the latest openings and changes in the Herald-Tribune's Sarasota-Manatee Retail News Facebook group.
The great thing about Costco is how simplistic it is. It's a giant warehouse, with items like water bottles packaged in bulk, and basically everything you could ever need under one roof. Do you need to get your iMac serviced? No problem, they have their own mini-Genius Bar with Apple-trained specialists. Need a diamond engagement ring? Costco's got 'em and doesn't sell anything lower than VS2 clarity grade diamonds.
Need a sandwich platter or a fine cheese for a party you're throwing? No problem. Need literally anything else, like diapers, a flu or tetanus shot, a new pair of glasses, a New York strip steak, a cauliflower pizza crust, a Chanel handbag, a sofa, a Segway transporter, a Halloween costume or a prescription for your dog? You can find it all under the same roof at the Bradenton Costco.
The company's warehouses in the Tampa and Sarasota markets are doing very well, Hector Mencia, the general manager of the Bradenton store, told me. The Brandon site is about 38 miles north, and the Sarasota store is about 20 miles south. He said he expects to pick up customers 10-15 miles south, 20 miles north and several miles to the east.
"The market was looked at and we saw that there's absolutely a lot of potential to do businesses here," Mencia said.
Mencia has been working for Costco since 1989. He started out in California before transferring to Florida about 16 years ago. He worked in the Brandon and Clearwater stores for eight years each before signing on as the general manager in Bradenton.
The store has 210 employees, including about 100 locals and 100 transfers, one of whom came from as far south as Puerto Rico and another as far north as Alaska.
"It's a very desirable area. We're very blessed, people want to come here — you don't have to force anybody. It's nice to have the opportunity to be able to have the resources and try to pick the best of the best."
I asked Mencia if there were any areas of the store that were bigger or smaller based on what they anticipated would be popular in Bradenton. Turns out this store's hearing aid center is bigger than usual because of high demand.
In terms of products, it's all here. You can get cat litter, two $50 Honey Baked Ham Co. gift cards for $80, an Ugg robe for $80 and rotisserie chicken. Costco's brand, Kirkland Signature, is prevalent throughout the store in everything from golf balls to 24 cage-free organic brown eggs for $6.49. Christmas supplies will start popping up in September, and live Christmas trees will be available closer to the holiday.
All in all, there are about 4,000 different total SKUs in the warehouse. The No. 1 selling item, Mencia told me, is toilet paper.
One of Costco's other main selling points is its vast wine selection. The company is the top seller of fine wine in the U.S., said Bob Holler, Southeast regional alcohol buyer for Costco.
"We pride ourselves on not just the quality of any product or any category, but the value we bring to the member," Holler said. "Wine, just like with any category you see in the building — the buyers work very closely to strip out any unnecessary cost."
For the Bradenton store, Holler said he looked for highly allocated wines and local alcohol producers. Expect to see Siesta Key Rum on the shelves. Costco's Kirkland Signature wines, Mencia said, also are very high in quality.
"I try to make sure we're representing the major wine producing regions, that we have great quality wines and that we try to reach a wide range of price points so we're not isolating certain members," Holler said.
Oh, and in case you were worried, yes there will be free samples, pizza slices and $1.50 hot dogs.
Basic memberships are $60 and executive memberships, which includes an annual 2% reward and up to $1,000 on qualified purchases at the end of the year, are $120.
Thousands of new members already have signed up ahead of the store's opening, Mencia said. If you'd rather do it in person, you can come to the store one or two days before opening and get your card. The store also has 18 gas pumps with its Kirkland Signature fuel.
The grand opening begins at 8 a.m. The store has 720 parking spaces, but I'd still get there early on opening day if I were you.
Laura Finaldi, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraefinaldi. Join her Sarasota-Manatee Retail News page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/sarasotamanateeretail.