BJ's Wholesale Club: An Industry Success Story

Matthew Keegan

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In the 1980s a phenomenon began to take hold in the retail industry: wholesale [or warehouse] clubs. These ‘big box’ retailers are dotting the American landscape and offer something beyond what the typical Wal-Mart, Target, or Kmart have: large packaged items at nicely discounted prices. Currently, Costco's, Sam's Club, and BJs dominate the market. Recently, my family joined BJ's and I will share with you why I think their business is a success story.

When we moved to the Raleigh, North Carolina area from New Jersey in 2004, we knew that the retail market - including supermarkets and discount stores - was strong. Within a two mile radius of where we live we counted at least a half a dozen supermarkets and each of the big three discounters, Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart, were present. Certainly, our choice of stores was in the abundant category.

Initially, little thought was given by us to joining a wholesale club, but a mailing received in our home from BJ's caught our attention. We knew that Sam's Club was also located in our town, while the closest Costco was in Durham - a thirty minute trek. Thus, our consideration to join would have only been between BJ's and Sam's Club. So, what was the deciding factor? Two free months of introductory membership! Yes, we “fell" for it.

Within a day or two I took my family to the nearest BJ's, in Cary, and marched up to the help desk. Although the cheerful woman working behind the desk attempted to persuade us to sign up immediately for a discounted and extended (15 months) one year membership, we told her that we were not familiar with the store and wanted to use the two free months to get to know the place and to see if what they sold was what we wanted. She understood as she snapped my picture and handed my club membership card to me.

It took only the first visit for us to realize we liked BJ's. My wife and I joked at the colossal sizes of some of the items - get a look at this five pound can of tuna! - but, in the end, we found enough items suitable for our family - particularly dry goods - that we realized our membership would pay for itself within our first two visits.

If you are familiar with wholesale clubs, you know that they carry just about everything. BJ's is the same way and we were impressed by the variety and amount of items available. Additionally, BJs’ own line of products - Berkley and Jensen - is a nice alternative for even greater savings. I purchased the “Men's Daily” vitamins and the price was approximately 30% lower than the name brand competitor. You can find the Berkley and Jensen name on a variety of products including gourmet foods, specialty imports, dry goods, clothing, cookware, etc.

There are many other areas in which you will save big at BJ's. Their selection of books is good and they carry many of the current bestsellers at prices that Barnes and Noble or Borders can only dream about. You can save plenty of money shopping their optical or automotive department –- I guess I won’t be going back to Jiffy Lube anymore – and I have noticed some great discounts on vacation packages. Our Cary club also has a gas station for members. Gas discounts generally run about ten cents per gallon and that quickly adds up especially in this day of elevated fuel prices. Not all BJ's have gas stations, but it is a nice bonus for members where available.

Is the environment perfect? No, of course not. One area of disappointment is their personal computers – the laptops at their Cary location are hidden in a locked cage behind the main desk. When I asked the supervisor about the missing laptops – one had been on display two months earlier – she cheerfully explained that they did not have the room to display a laptop. Huh?! With plenty of desktop computers on display one would think that some room could be made – I wondered if the real reason was theft. Since my arms already were full of checked out items I did not want to go to a cage to view computers. Cages are for zoo animals while computers, especially if you really want to sell them, ought to be out on full display.

For the most part, the personnel working at the Cary location are very friendly and helpful. This differed sharply from one of the competing clubs we belonged to while living in New Jersey a few years back. Of course, we make sure that we shop at the slowest possible time of the day and we check out our own items. Occasionally, the scanner will give you an ‘attitude’ and claim that you didn’t scan something properly but that is usually quickly resolved by a roving clerk who comes by to rectify problems.

All in all, I give BJ's high marks. We have since converted our trial membership to a full membership and are looking forward to receiving great savings and a having a continued good shopping experience. Now, if BJ's would only put their laptops back out on full display. . .

Matt writes on a variety of topics including business, product review, personal development, Christian, and aviation themes. His two main sites are the Aviaiton Employment Board at and the Corporate Flight Attendant Community at


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