BY WILL FIFIELD AND T. FOSTER JONES We didn’t even have hot dogs the first year. building, empty boxes completely cover all
PHOTOGRAPHY BY E. J. FLYNN All the changes have made business for our of the front-end registers. Jewelry and watch
warehouses much more complex. cases have been cleaned out.
Literally millions and millions of dol- “The increase in volume means more peo- All this must change within the next few
lars’ worth of merchandise streams in ple shopping, more employees working, more hours. Pallets of merchandise have to go up
and out of any given Costco location merchandise moving. Despite these additions, into the steel racks in some organized fash-weekly without a break. New items the safety and security of everyone in the ion or be broken down and stocked. Bays,
arrive and depart daily, hourly. And the clock building is still our first and foremost concern. racks, cases and displays must be filled.
is always ticking, pitting warehouse employ- Not just for members, but employees, suppli- You can’t help wondering, “How in the
ees and management against a looming ers and anyone who comes into a warehouse.” world are they going to pull this off?”
deadline each day. We witnessed the complex nature of “When I walk onto the floor and see this,
Yet, when the big warehouse doors roll up Costco in action. A day in the life of a ware- I know we’re really going to have to hustle,”
every morning at Costco, members all over the house is about choreography, finely tuned says Ben Solorzano, the foods manager, one of
world are greeted by a familiar sight: towering processes, honed over the years, each task two managers who start the 2 a.m. shift. “But
steel racks of merchandise neatly stacked floor hinging completely on the proper execution we’ll manage,” he smiles. “We always do.”
to ceiling, bays filled with uniformly arranged of the preceding one. The two opening managers go through
products. A sense of order and calm pervades. their areas, making notes, conferring with the
At The Connection, we asked, “How does Costco in chaos four morning forklift drivers. What are the
this happen? Who makes it possible to keep the It’s 2 a.m. Los Angeles is hushed. The day’s requirements? Special displays, manda-warehouse humming along at this capacity?” streets are quiet. This is not a normal time to tory placements and promotions require prod-To answer this, two Connection reporters, be up. But when we stumble into the ware- uct repositioning, which causes a domino
bleary eyed, craving sleep and caffeine, visited house it’s already a buzzing hive of industry. effect. What products need to stay put, leave
the Culver City, California, Costco warehouse It also looks nothing like the Costco ware- the floor, move to a different location?
in the wee hours of morning, tasked with houses you’ve seen. It’s chaos. Pallets Although there are lists that map out where
spending 24 hours trying to find out just what a stacked upon pallets of merchandise line the merchandise resides up in the steel shelving,
day in the life of a warehouse is all about. main aisle down the entire length of the the drivers, whose experience averages in the
What we discovered is that running a 140, 000-square-foot building and down teens of years, typically carry the knowledge of
Costco warehouse is a 24-hour, seven-day-a- almost every one of the side aisles. And as we product location in their heads. “They know
week process. It never, ever stops. walk through the building, it gets worse. where everything goes,” says Ben. “They’re
It wasn’t always this way. “Over the past The meat department is nearly bare. usually one step ahead of the manager.”
20 years, the business has become signifi- There’s one guy in the bakery department fir- At 4 a.m., a crew of eight stockers arrives.
cantly more complicated,” explains Costco ing up the ovens, furiously counting and Stockers unload 100 to 150 pallets of mer-President and CEO Jim Sinegal. “We had no organizing goods in the now-sparse bakery. chandise every day. They check in with their
pharmacies, optical centers, gas stations, fresh Half-filled bays of merchandise are strewn managers, briefly discuss the day’s needs,
meat or produce. We took cash or checks only. with loose cardboard. At the front end of the then begin restacking and restocking shelves.
City of pallets Bake me a cake as fast as you can Ready or not
Close to a thousand pallets piled with products The warehouse bakery crew creates more cakes, “Businesses rely on our doors going up at 9
fly through Costco on a daily basis. Empties line muffins, bagels, pastries and various other baked [an hour earlier than most Costco warehouses],”
the concrete walkway where drivers and delivery goods before each day’s opening than many says Cesar Amaral, hardlines (non-food items)
workers check in with receiving personnel. places produce in a week. manager. “Merchandising is exciting. I love it.”