Covington Costco opens with self-checkout, other tweaks

More than four years in the making, the grand opening of Costco in Covington tomorrow is being hailed as a significant moment for both the wholesale warehouse company and the city.

More than four years in the making, the grand opening of Costco in Covington tomorrow is being hailed as a significant moment for both the wholesale warehouse company and the city.

It was one of the first projects city manager Derek Matheson tackled when he started with Covington more than 18 months ago, when Costco officials weren’t sure the project was financially feasible.

That’s a distant memory now.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, and we warmly welcome Costco to our community,” Matheson said. “Shopping at the (new store) and other Covington businesses helps our local economy and helps the city maintain vital services like public safety during these tough economic times.”

Costco, known as a place to get all kinds of items for a good value, probably couldn’t open at a better time.

Store manager Tom Olson said he is “glad that we were able to work it out in the end.”

Olson, who is coming from the company’s Tacoma store to run this new one, said there are some subtle tweaks to the 157,000-square-feet Covington store.

“It’s our standard building now but about 10,000 square feet bigger than some of our older buildings in the area,” Olson said. “On the front end, one of the changes you’ll see is we’re going to have four self-checkout registers. We have kind of a redesigned food court here that is pushed back up against the wall.”

The food court area will have more seating than older stores and will have a little more space between it and the registers.

There will be 18 registers, Olson said, with four being self-check, which is a new concept Costco has been testing recently.

“We have tried that in a few locations around the country,” he said. “We tested them at the Silverdale location (in Kitsap County) with some mixed success.”

The Covington store will have all the typical ancillary services like hearing aids, a pharmacy, one-hour photo and the optical department with at least one optometrist on staff.

Other than the self-check registers, Olson said, the front of the store will look quite familiar to Costco members.

“We will open up with a little more seasonal merchandise because it’s that time of year,” he said.

About a week before the store was set to open, much of the shelves were stocked, and the first thing customers will see when they enter will be Christmas decorations, trees, gift wrap and boxed greeting cards.

About 20 employees arrived at the store in mid-August and started preparing for the grand opening. “We started setting the steel up, setting up the racking,” Olson said. “Right now we have pretty much done this with a floor staff of only about 25 people. Just in the last couple weeks we have brought in more of our fresh-food managers to uncrate their stuff.”

On Oct. 16, the deli cases were empty, but employees were prepping them to be stocked. It was one of the only parts of the store that didn’t have product stocked yet.

“The setting of the floor, just by the nature of our business, it’s all full pallets, it’s all fork lifts, so 20 to 25 people can handle it,” Olson said. “It’s a pretty simple effort. We just cut the shrink wrap and slide it in on the pallets.”

There will be hundreds of employees when the store opens; 110 transferred from existing stores, while management hired another 155 from the area, Olson said.

A significant operational change to the design of this store is one most customers won’t ever see but will probably benefit from indirectly.

“What’s nice for us – and to me it’s a health issue, it’s an efficiency issue and it’s kind of a green issue – is we can just bring our trucks to the back and we can just literally drive the stuff off the refrigerated trailer,” Olson said. “Operationally, that’s a big thing for us.”

Other features will be an extended offering of fine wines and cheeses, as well as higher-end brands the buyers have selected for the grand opening that Olson described as “spice items,” like True Religion jeans. Surveys of the area showed those kinds of products would fare well, he said.

“The demographics show that we have a real strong membership here,” Olson said. “Our marketing statistics show that. That’s why we’re here. We feel like it’s going to be a good market.”

And so far, the Covington community has demonstrated a clear enthusiasm for Costco.

During construction of the building, Olson said, “people told us, ‘We’re glad you’re here. We’re glad you’re coming.’ It’s amazing how many of our employees and employee’s families live out in the Covington area. It’s been a real good welcome, and people are excited we’ll be so close.”

Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and khill@reporternewspapers.com