Costco vs. AT&T – A Lesson in Good Business

Costco is a great example of a good business
Photo Credit: Mike Mozart

I was meeting a colleague in the Costco parking lot yesterday morning at 10:00am. We were riding together to an out-of-town business trip.

I arrived early, about 9:45am, and was surprised to find that although the parking lot was pretty empty, there were about 5 to 7 people sitting in their cars waiting. I decided the Costco parking lot is probably *not* a park-n-ride for most people. And that’s when I saw the store opened at 10:00am.

Ha! LOSERS, I thought. Who shows up before the store even opens?

Everyone knows the employees are in there playing hacky sack.

(Is that still a thing? Remember when Freddy Prinze Jr. improvises a hacky sack monologue in some kind of weird theatre performance to impress Rachael Leigh Cook in “She’s All That”? Fine… remember Freddy Prinze Jr.?)

Good Business:

Anyway, that’s when it happened… I’m mid-taunt when the door to Costco opens at 9:50am (gasp!) and people get out of their cars and just walk right in.

What? This is absolute blasphemy. I’ve never seen this happen.

Not-So-Good Business:

Contrast that to just last week when I finally upgraded my iPhone 4s.

(Evidently it shouldn’t take 3 minutes to load a score on the ESPN app. Who knew?)

Anyway, I showed up to the AT&T store about 10 minutes before it opened and waited until 5 minutes AFTER it was supposed to open as one store employee stood at a counter playing on his phone until ‘time to open.’

How many times have you been sitting outside a store watching employees mill around? And how frustrating is it when it’s AFTER the time it’s supposed to open?


“But, we don’t want to set that precedent,” says some suit in an office. “If we open early one day customers will come to expect that.”

Expect what? Your company to over-deliver? To surprise people? To exceed expectations?

Yeah, all those things sound awful. I bet companies that do all those things get shitty Yelp reviews and go out of business.

Why do we often make business harder than it has to be?


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  • Love this post. I am a huge Costco fan. They know a thing or two about running a tight ship.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Thanks, @rrohan189:disqus. The post felt almost pedestrian to me, but I’m trying to hit “publish” more often so it means a lot that you enjoyed it.

    And, yes, Costco does *a lot* of things well. It’s amazing what we can learn from watching good company’s go about their business — and equally amazing how ‘simple’ some of those things are (i.e. living wage, reasonable CEO pay, embracing equality, et al.)


    Rohan Reply:

    Agree! – *Never failure, only learning and never older, only better..*


  • “But, we don’t want to set that precedent,” says some suit in an office.
    “If we open early one day customers will come to expect that.”

    One of my biggest pet peeves is being treated like I’m in school when I visit a business. We have this very popular coffee shop nearby. I put up with it because my daughter really does like the lattes and we enjoy brunch there occasionally, but it always feels wrong. Customers are your lifeblood, not pupils to be trained to do your will.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Thanks for taking the time to chime in, Bill.

    I’d be interested in exactly how your local coffee shop treats you (and/or its other customers) like you all are in school. I’m not a proponent of the “customer is always right” mentality, but I do think that customers should be treated with respect and made to feel welcome.


    bsoist Reply:

    I owned and operated a restaurant for about a decade, so I certainly don’t think the customer is always right. But, like you mentioned they should be treated with respect.

    When I was writing my original comment, I couldn’t even remember what business it was because it has been a while since I’ve been there. I finally remembered the incident but couldn’t remember the exact details.

    BUT here are examples of what I mean… (and to fair, I’m more sensitive than most because I used to hear these complaints from my own patrons and had to speak to employees about it)

    …being told where the menu board is (20 feet away on the way up near the ceiling – in pink font) when you ask a question about something on the menu
    …being told why a certain mistake was made

    …generally caring more about explaining to me how their establishment works than just taking care of my requests

    Another thing that really gets me is blaming other staff members or management for the problem.

    Anyway, we’ve strayed a bit from the topic of your post, but the way you worded “we don’t want to set that precedent” just reminds me so much of how so many local business operate. Some seem to want their business to run a certain way and want their customers to comply in every detail.