You might consider yourself a pro Costco shopper already. Perhaps you've found the most efficient time to visit your neighborhood Costco, which is usually right after opening or right before closing on weekdays, usually Mondays. Perhaps you've memorized the locations of all your common items around the store so you can pre-build and execute a Traveling Salesman Path to find all the items on your shopping list quickly, minimizing walking time around the gigantic warehouse. Perhaps you always carry only cash when you go shopping at Costco so you don't give yourself a chance to buy products on impulse. And perhaps you've also learned to ignore all the free samples littered around the store since they're nothing but a bait, unless of course it was your free dinner plan from the get go. Sadly, the free samples are not so commonly found when the store isn't so crowded.
In addition to all these well known Costco hacks, I recently ran into the biggest hack of them all — the Costco Business Center. A Costco Business Center is similar to a regular Costco (known as a Costco Warehouse Club), but with a few subtle differences that us regular consumers can take advantage of. The business centers are designed primarily for small businesses, and for business deliveries. But guess what? A little known fact is that even regular household customers like ourselves can go shop there as well! There are no special minimums you need to meet, and your regular Costco membership card will work for access.
In this post, we'll talk about why you should be shopping at these business centers instead of the regular Costco warehouses. Some people don't like shopping at the regular Costco warehouses at all because of all the headaches involved in shopping there. They don't like the crowds, the parking situation, and the long line-ups at checkout. They think the price difference isn't worth all the stress and hassle. But by not buying their regular necessities at Costco, they are voluntarily paying 10-30% more for groceries compared to those who shop for their entire family at Costco. The Costco Business centers alleviate a lot of the headaches of a regular Costco warehouse club as we will see below. So if you don't normally shop at Costco, give these business centers a try instead. Even if you do shop at the normal Costco warehouses, the business centers might prove to be more fun, less stressful, and less headache-inducing.
Check out this impressive fact sheet on Costco Business Centers for all the juicy details.
Pros of shopping at Costco Business Centers
There's quite a few important benefits to be gained by shopping at these Costco business centers. These benefits were meant to be taken advantage of small business owners and their employees, but there's nothing stopping you from taking advantage of them as well.
- No crowds. These business centers typically get significantly less foot traffic since it's usually business owners that come here with huge basket sizes (almost 3x more!). Also half of the total sales volume is done by delivery, so you don't ever see these people in the stores. Since small businesses don’t want to contend with the consumer traffic in the warehouse, at the checkout line, and in the parking lot of a regular Costco, these stores are designed to be light-weight and smooth to navigate. The business centers therefore get one-seventh to one-eight the amount of traffic a regular Costco gets.
- Faster checkout times. Since there's fewer people shopping in the first place, the checkout times are less as well. Furthermore, business people don't have time to wrestle with long lines for checkout, so Costco tries to keep these checkout lines moving quickly.
- Easier/quicker parking. There aren't as many people visiting these business centers, so it's a lot easier to find parking. Small business owners don't have time to drive around to find parking, so Costco ensures there's always enough parking for these people, close-by to the store's entrance to minimize walking time and effort.
- Opens earlier. These business centers open up way earlier in the mornings to cater to the needs of small business owners. Great if you're a morning type of person. Because small businesses need more convenient hours that fit their business schedule, the Business Center opens at 8:00 AM and closes at 6:00 PM vs. a regular Costco that opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 8:30 PM.
Cons of shopping at Costco Business Centers
Unfortunately, shopping at these business centers isn't 100% rosy. There's a few cons that you need to be aware of as well.
- Closes earlier on weekdays. These business centers open up way earlier in the mornings (8AM), but close as early as 6PM on weekdays since these hours correspond to normal business hours. In contrast, the normal Costco warehouse clubs are open until 8:30PM to cater to the after-work crowd.
- Not open on Sundays. This one is a big bummer since that's usually when we like to do our shopping. But you shouldn't go to a regular Costco on Sundays anyways (the crowds are crazy!), so it's best to schedule your Costco business center trips for weekdays or Saturdays. (Hours of operation on Saturdays are 9:30AM - 6:00PM). If you only shop for groceries on Saturdays, the business centers are a huge win since the crowds are drastically higher at the regular Costco.
- Might not have all the same sales and discounts. I'm not certain if the monthly sales, the one's that are advertised via the marketing pamphlet Costco sends us once a month, apply to these business centers. Let me know in the comments if you know either way. So you might overpay for a few items.
- Smaller liquor/alcohol selection. Bummer indeed since Costco alcohol is dirt cheap. Not a big concern for us since we don't buy/consume any alcohol anyways.
- Reduced catalog. The business centers may not have all the items you're used to buying from a regular Costco. Some common missing items at the business centers: clothing, books, movies, electronics, alcohol, toys, gardening/yard supplies, furniture, kayaks, shoes, bedding, home decor, deli, etc. There is also no apparel, jewelry, sporting goods, CD’s, or seasonal merchandise.
- Missing departments. Costco Business Centers also differ in that they do not have all the ancillary departments that you are used to seeing at regular Costco warehouses such as Pharmacy, Optical or Hearing Aid services, Photo Lab, Bakery, Tire shop, etc. They do have the Print Shop though. Sometimes, they are also missing the Food Court, but luckily the business center near my apartment in San Francisco has it. Costco business centers are also less likely to carry a subsidized gas station.
- Heavy emphasis on unhealthy snacks and beverages. You have been forewarned. The entire middle section of the Costco business center is filled with all sorts of unhealthy snacks, candies, and beverages, presumably catering to convenience store owners and vending machine operators. If you go here without a shopping list, or you lose your discipline to stick to your list, you might fall right into a huge trap. Might be a good idea to carry only cash if you aren't the kind of person who can stick to their shopping list.
- Different layout. The business centers have a different layout to cater to business merchants and their needs, since they sell many products that aren't carried in your regular warehouse club (like industrial cooking utensils and cleaning supplies). As a result, your items may not be in their usual locations. So it's going to take a few weeks of getting used to.
Summary of the Costco Business Center
Why did Costco build these dedicated Business Centers? They built them specifically for small businesses such as restaurants, catering businesses, convenience stores, vending machine operators, hotels/motels, gas/service stations, and professional offices (Legal, Accounting, Engineering, Medical, etc.)
The Costco Business Center fills a void for the Business member who needs:
- More convenient business hours
- A broader selection of business merchandise
- Less consumer traffic to contend with
- Delivery to their business
- Convenient, easily accessible location
- Everyday cheap Costco pricing
But guess what? A lot of these benefits are also pretty handy for regular families and consumers like us! Especially the part about less consumer traffic to contend with. Sign me up! I was able to find most of what we buy from Costco at these business centers, so the catalog differences weren't an issue.
Is there a Costco Business Center near you? Have you tried visiting one yet?(Remember, they're closed on Sundays). If so, will you be moving all your Costco shopping to these business centers to help save you time and stress? The business centers could easily cut down your total shopping time by half, once you factor in the parking and checkout times!