Inside the weird, wonderful and expansive world of Auckland’s Costco megastore

Coffins, a nine-foot-tall talking Halloween witch, $2,399.99 Alexander McQueen handbags and 48-roll packs of toilet paper the size of a crib mattress.

These will all be on sale at the sprawling 14,800 sq m Costco megastore in the Auckland suburb of Westgate, which opens on Wednesday next week.

On Friday, Patrick Noone, managing director of Costco in New Zealand, gave the media a tour of the global retail giant’s store with its towering, nearly full shelves.

It was difficult to prepare, Noone said, because the continued disruption to shipping meant that items that should have arrived in two to four weeks took four to six weeks to arrive.

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Nobody expects such a rush at the opening, that Costco has prepared a special traffic plan and has rented a nearby parking lot to supplement its own 800-space parking lot.

Costco is a bulk retailer. Households pay $60 for the right to shop with it.

Noone says his specialty is selling in bulk at lower margins than traditional retailers, such as supermarkets which he hopes to take market share in New Zealand.

Patrick Noone, managing director of Costco New Zealand, has now overseen 14 store openings for Costco during a career at the global retailer spanning more than three decades.  He says the 48-roll packs of toilet paper are Costco's global bestsellers.

ROB STOCK / Stuff

Patrick Noone, managing director of Costco New Zealand, has now overseen 14 store openings for Costco during a career at the global retailer spanning more than three decades. He says the 48-roll packs of toilet paper are Costco’s global bestsellers.

That means bulk toilet paper and massive packets of everything from organic chia seeds to laundry detergent.

There are huge 18 liter cooking oil tanks.

The packs in the freezer section are huge.

But there were few prices displayed because Costco doesn’t want the media to brief the supermarket duopoly of Countdown and Foodstuffs before it opens.

Patrick Noone, Managing Director of Costco New Zealand, among the shelves of the first Costco store in Auckland.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Patrick Noone, Managing Director of Costco New Zealand, among the shelves of the first Costco store in Auckland.

Noone said he expected the duopoly to respond to Costco’s opening.

Some prices were displayed, including for some of Costco’s Kirkland line of food and merchandise.

It covers a bewildering range of products. There are general Kirkland grocery items like food, drink, and detergent, but there are also Kirkland cribs and Kirkland-branded hearing aids.

One is marked at $1,999.99, and Noone said that’s several thousand dollars cheaper than Kiwis could buy similar devices elsewhere.

Halloween and Christmas consumerism loom large at Costco, and include witches and skeletons over nine feet tall.

ROB STOCK / Stuff

Halloween and Christmas consumerism loom large at Costco, and include witches and skeletons over nine feet tall.

But it’s not just the Countdown and Foodstuffs supermarket duopoly in its sights.

There is a pharmacy, a hearing aid clinic, a tire replacement service and an optician. You can buy a coffin. You can order artificial grass.

Everything is bigger at Costco.

Costco sells big packets of nuts, seeds, and other healthy foods, as well as stomach-bloating candies in American-sized portions.

ROB STOCK / Stuff

Costco sells big packets of nuts, seeds, and other healthy foods, as well as stomach-bloating candies in American-sized portions.

The packs are bigger. Croissants are bigger. Teddy bears are bigger. Halloween statues are much larger, as are Christmas trees.

Selling larger products was a deliberate business strategy, Noone said, as was making a big deal out of some ready-to-eat food items, like its “world famous” hot dogs, for which Noone would not reveal prices.

The same goes for its roast chickens, which sell more overseas and are roasted in huge open ovens for buyers to see.

Patrick Noone, managing director of Costco in New Zealand, did not say how much he would charge for his hot dog

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Patrick Noone, managing director of Costco in New Zealand, did not say how much he would charge for his “world famous” hot dog.

Likewise, his bakery is a hive of activity open to the public.

There is a strong American cultural atmosphere in the Costco store in Auckland. Halloween is big. Christmas is big. There are jukeboxes for sale. There are American candies for sale in dangerously large packages. Soft drinks will be sold by the slice.

But the store also caters to those with a healthier diet. Instead of having to repeatedly buy small packages of nuts and seeds from their local supermarket, there are large packages for sale at Costco.

To cope with the huge packs and bulk sales model, Costco checkouts have very wide aisles, very wide conveyor belts, and there are huge carts for shoppers to load.

There is plenty of space around the checkouts at Costco as the place is all about bulk purchases.

ROB STOCK / Stuff

There is plenty of space around the checkouts at Costco as the place is all about bulk purchases.

The store is so big, it’s a good walk from one end to the other. One of the Costco employees at work preparing the store for opening took 25,000 steps yesterday.

The store is slightly larger than most of its Australian stores, Noone said.

Another different feature is the English and te reo Maori signage.

What is not available is alcohol, as West Auckland Costco is in an area where alcohol sales are controlled by a trust, and attempts by local activists to deprive that trust of his liquor license have so far yielded nothing.

Caskets can be ordered from Costco.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Caskets can be ordered from Costco.

Home deliveries are also not available.

Noone said Costco doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to make them.

And while he didn’t rule it out, he said Costco wants people to come to the store.

Costco customers overseas tended to come in once every three to four weeks and buy in bulk.

A jukebox for sale at Costco.

ROB STOCK / Stuff

A jukebox for sale at Costco.

This is partly due to Costco’s “treasure hunt” strategy.

Noone said Costco’s products rotate quickly and items on sale one day may not be available the next.

As opening day on September 28 approaches, Costco has hired more than 330 employees.

“We pay grant rate and living wage. We want to give people really, really good jobs, good training,” he said.

Other companies were struggling with a national skills shortage, but Noone said: “If you pay the right wages and have the right working conditions, you get the right people,” he said.

Noone said Costco had no problem finding staff because it paid more than its competitors.

Globally, Costco purchased approximately US$250 million worth of New Zealand products each year.

Much of it was fresh fruit, dairy and meat, but Noone hoped to see an increase in value-added manufactured goods from New Zealand.

New Zealand brands on sale included Canterbury clothing and high-value Manuka honey and collagen products.

Costco plans to open more stores. He already has consent for one in Christchurch.

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