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Top Costco exec predicts fourth Winnipeg store

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IF Winnipeggers can afford NHL tickets, they can also support at least one more Costco location.

The warehouse retailing chain tends to be most successful in and around affluent neighbourhoods, and Jim Sinegal, who co-founded the company in 1983, said he anticipates a fourth store will be built in Winnipeg within the next few years.

"Affluence is a big part of what makes us successful," he said Monday morning. "(Affluent people) are almost always the smartest shoppers and are looking for value."

As an example, he said the success of its private label brand, Kirkland Signature, can be attributed to savvy shoppers who understand the quality that goes into private-label products, and they're often made in the same plant as name-brand varieties.

Sinegal was in town Monday to receive the 2011 International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award (IDEA), an annual presentation by the Associates at the University of Manitoba.

Sinegal said he's looking forward to both Target's entry into the Canadian market in the coming months as it rebrands many Zellers stores across the country and the continuing diversification by other retailers, such as Walmart, Canadian Tire, the Real Canadian Superstore and Canada Safeway.

"We're pretty used to competition. We compete in the most competitive market in the world, the U.S.," he said.

Sinegal predicted Target's arrival with its "cheap chic" offering won't be without its growing pains.

"Entering a new market from scratch is never easy. But this isn't their first rodeo. They'll figure it out," he said.

Sinegal, 75, got his start in the business as a bagger at Fed-Mart in 1954. He rose up the ranks to executive vice-president by the late 1970s. A few years later, he co-founded Costco with fellow entrepreneur Jeffrey Brotman and together they built up an operation that today has more than 500 locations worldwide, with more than 61 million cardholders and a market cap of more than $32 billion.

He has also been widely recognized for his progressive management practices, including paying high wages and providing a solid health plan to employees, which have enabled Costco to benefit from low employee turnover and high productivity.

"High wages are part of our DNA. We always believed business was about more than making money. There's a social contract, a responsibility to where you do business. We want to hire good people. If you provide good career opportunities, good things happen," he said.

The average Costco employee makes $21 an hour, nearly double the $11 paid to Walmart workers, he said.

Great idea

The IDEA was created 28 years ago to honour a business executive who has achieved outstanding entrepreneurial success and made an exemplary contribution to economic life both in Canada and around the world.

Past winners of the IDEA include Murray Edwards, co-owner of the Calgary Flames, Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion, Howard Schultz, head of Starbucks Coffee Co., Izzy Asper, founder of Canwest Global Communications and Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.

This year's winner, Jim Sinegal, co-founder of Costco Wholesale Corp., will receive a gold medal produced by the Royal Canadian Mint specifically for the award.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2011 B5

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