Tag Archives: Costco

Jew of the Week: Jeff Brotman

Jeffrey Hart Brotman (1942-2017) was born in Tacoma, Washington to parents of Jewish-Romanian ancestry. His father and uncles ran a successful retail store that eventually expanded to 18 locations. After earning a political science degree and law doctorate, Brotman followed his father’s footsteps and went into retail with his brother. They first opened a jeans store for women, and then a men’s clothing store. In 1982, Brotman teamed up with Jim Sinegal, who had previously worked for (recent Jew of the WeekSol Price and learned the wholesale business from him. Brotman and Sinegal co-founded Costco. By 1993, Costco merged with Sol Price’s original wholesale company. Today, Costco has over 700 locations around the world, with 85 million members, 174,000 employees, and $120 billion in revenue, making it the 18th richest company in the world, and second largest retailer (behind Wal-Mart). Thanks largely to Brotman’s personal motto of “Do the right thing”, Costco is famous for being one of the top-rated employers in the world, giving its workers large salaries and extensive benefits. Brotman was Costco’s chairman since its founding until last week, when he sadly and unexpectedly passed away. He had served on the boards of 12 other organizations, including Starbucks (of which he was one of the first investors) and the United Way. Brotman was a philanthropist, too, donating large sums to educational and health institutions like the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, as well as the arts and many Jewish causes. He recently gave a million dollars to his synagogue in Tacoma to build a Jewish daycare and preschool. He had stated that it was the synagogue that “launched me into being a responsible adult.” Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz eulogized him: “He was one of the earliest believers and investors in Starbucks and in me… he has been a shining light… We have lost a titan of our community.”

Words of the Week

Helping the disadvantaged, encouraging diversity, fostering a community that treats its people well – these were values I learned from my parents… my rabbi at Temple Beth El, and my grandfather, who helped with the movement to plant trees in Israel. When I see some of the fundamental unfairness built into the system for people who are less fortunate, and couple that with my family’s tradition of helping others, I am compelled to act, compelled to give what I can to help.
– Jeff Brotman

Jew of the Week: Sol Price

Sol Price (1916-2009) was born in New York City to Jewish-Russian immigrants from Belarus. He grew up in San Diego, where he earned a philosophy degree at San Diego State University before getting a law degree from the University of Southern California. Price was admitted to the bar in 1938. After over a dozen years as a business lawyer, Price had an idea to open a new kind of department store, offering wholesale prices on quality goods sold in bulk. Price opened his first store, called FedMart, in an old airport hangar in 1954. He charged a small membership fee ($2 per family) and kept prices even lower by avoiding advertising, major credit cards, and expensive real estate, and maintaining a small inventory. The model was a great success, and Price expanded rapidly. He pioneered many innovations in retail, including being the first to sell gasoline at wholesale prices, and being the first to have an in-store pharmacy and opticianry. By 1974, FedMart had 45 stores and over $300 million in sales. The following year, FedMart was bought out by a German retailer, and Price was soon kicked out of the company. He then started a new chain, Price Club, in an old factory once owned by Howard Hughes. Price Club expanded quickly, too, and went public in 1980. A few years later, one of Price Club’s employees teamed up with a wealthy lawyer (whose own Jewish family was successful in retail) to start a competing wholesaler, called Costco. In 1993. Price Club merged with Costco to form PriceCostco, together having 206 locations and $16 billion in sales. By 1997, Costco became the official company name, and today, Costco has over 700 locations around the world, with 85 million members, and 174,000 employees. It is the second largest retailer, and the 18th richest company in the world, with $120 billion in revenue. Costco is second only to Wal-Mart. Ironically, Sam Walton wrote in his book that he “borrowed” most of his ideas from Sol Price, and called his store “Wal-Mart” because he liked Sol Price’s FedMart! Not surprisingly, Price is often called the “father of the wholesale retail industry”. He was also a generous philanthropist, having donated tens of millions to various causes, especially in his hometown of San Diego.

Passover Starts Monday Evening!

Words of the Week

On his birthday, a person should meditate, recall and contemplate his past, and correct and repent that which requires correction and repentance.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Samuel and Ron Popeil

Salesmen of the Century

Ron Popeil with some of his inventions (Credit: David McNew)

Ron Popeil with some of his inventions (Credit: David McNew)

Samuel Popeil (1915-1984) was born in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His uncle, Nathan Morris, was a successful salesman and took Popeil on as an apprentice. In 1945, Popeil moved to Chicago to start a kitchen gadgets business with his brother. Soon, Popeil had ideas for better product designs and invented a number of his own kitchen gadgets, including a juice extractor, sandwich pie-maker, and donut maker. Together with his creative marketing and sales pitches, business for Samuel Popeil soared rapidly.

His son, Ronald Popeil (b. 1935) started working in his factory at just 13. By 17, he started his own business selling his father’s gadgets, despite the two having a poor relationship. Ron quickly became a top salesman, making over $500 a day in his late teens. By 1958, he began selling his father’s inventions on television, starting with the “Chop-O-Matic”. With his novel – and now classic – sales pitches (“But wait, there’s more!” and “If you order now…”) the Chop-O-Matic quickly sold over 2 million units. (Click here to see Ron Popeil’s 1959 Chop-O-Matic commercial.) Following this success, Samuel produced the Dial-O-Matic, Whip-O-Matic, Mince-O-Matic, and then its most popular invention, 1963’s Veg-O-Matic, which sold 11 million units. Many more gadgets were made as the company slowly faded away, and was sold and liquidated in 1979. Samuel Popeil died five years later, and Ron’s own company, Ronco Teleproducts, went bankrupt. Ron didn’t stop there, though, and rebuilt the kitchen gadget empire with his own inventions and products, like the Beef Jerky Machine and Giant Dehydrator. Most popular of all was the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ. Inspired by seeing a long line-up at Costco for rotisserie chicken, Ron spent a great deal of time crafting a small, kitchen-friendly machine, and ended up filing twelve different patents for his unique rotisserie design. His work paid off, with the Showtime Rotisserie bringing in over a billion dollars in sales – primarily through Ron’s 28-minute infomercial – and becoming America’s best-selling kitchen appliance. Ron Popeil would go down as America’s “Salesman of the Century” (also the title of his autobiography). When awarded the 1993 Ig Nobel Prize in Consumer Engineering, Ron was described as having “redefined the industrial revolution”. He has appeared (or been parodied) in countless songs, books, films and TV shows. Ron sold his company for $55 million in 2005 so that he could spend more time with his family, yet still works as an inventor and salesman, never abandoning his passion.

Words of the Week

Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.
– Ayn Rand