Costco and the Evolution of the Kirkland Signature Brand

Tigard, OR, USA - Mar 17, 2020: A shopper pushing a cart loaded with bath tissues and other groceries at a Costco Wholesale Store in Tigard, Oregon.
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Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand brought in $58 billion in sales during Costco’s latest fiscal year — equaling about a quarter of the business’s total revenue, CNN reported — making Kirkland America’s biggest consumer packaged goods brand in terms of sales. However, it took Costco a couple of decades to get the strategy right.

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Jim Sinegal, Costco’s co-founder and CEO at the time of the branding changeover, found an opportunity to revamp the company’s private-label strategy. At the time, Costco products were labelled under 30 different brand names.

“We found that there was a resurgence of private-label product, and that was driven an awful lot by the fact that the prices of brand-name products were growing so rapidly,” Sinegal said at a talk in 2019 at Georgetown University, CNN noted. 

Kirkland Signature was one of the name suggestions Sinegal received, a spin on the company’s corporate headquarters at the time. “We liked it,” Sinegal said. “We cleared it for every country and every product category that we would have. That made it simple.”

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By 1995, the private brand names were replaced by the new Kirkland Signature name. Costco’s Kirkland Signature now sells for up to 20% less than other national brand names.

Having one brand name signaled consistency and created other cost efficiencies, per CNN. Costco didn’t have to pay for different packaging and only has to invest in suppliers of the Kirkland brand. 

Kirkland Signature not only focused on competitive prices but great quality. When creating Kirkland Signature products — “we upped the quality,” said Richard Galanti, Costco’s EVP and CFO, Mashed reported.

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“Kirkland is a brand in its own right,” Karen Short, retail analyst at Barclays, told CNN in a separate report. “It is one of the reasons people go to Costco. That’s not necessarily something you can say about many private labels.”

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About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.
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