Temptation stalks aisles at wholesale club

June 05, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

Some years ago, my wife and I came to the realization we weren't buying enough stuff we didn't need, so we joined Sam's Club.

Now through the magic of wholesale club shopping, we pay twice as much for groceries, toiletries and incidentals as we used to -- mainly because of all the other things we pick up while we're there.

The thing about Sam's Club -- and B.J.'s and Costco are the same -- is this: Go there for bread and milk and you might come home with an ottoman, too.

Go for a tin of coffee and a bag of oranges and you could come back with a pup tent.

Just because the prices are so good.

True story: A few weeks ago, I went to Sam's Club to get digital photos developed and came home with a blender.

We didn't even need a blender.

But the price was too good to pass up.

It was so good I almost bought three more blenders, in case the day should ever come when a burglar breaks into the house and steals the two blenders we now own.

The Sam's Club where we shop is the size of a SPECTRE missile base in a James Bond movie, and has about the same ambience.

Still, as your shopping cart rumbles over the rough concrete floors and you stare up at the overhead racks filled with discounted plasma TVs, ceiling fans, lamps, desk chairs, area rugs, produce and everything else, a little voice inside you might say (as it once said to me): Couldn't we use a nice automatic garage-door opener? Even though we don't technically have a garage?

If I were to attempt to articulate the overall Sam's Club philosophy, it would go something like this:

Don't buy just one of anything when you can buy six.

Don't buy a small amount of anything when you can buy a dump truckful.

If there is even one product you want that we don't sell -- such as, let's say, a lizard terrarium -- tell us. And, by God, we'll have a row of lizard terrariums on the floor the next day.

At Sam's Club, the food is mostly sold in bulk, as if you and everyone else in the store were shopping for the Baltimore Ravens.

Therefore, the food comes in huge containers that look like something you'd find in the hold of a freighter.

And these containers will take up vast amounts of space in your kitchen cabinets, pantry and freezer.

When we buy a box of, say, Special K With Berries cereal, it's about the size of a toaster oven.

And it will, along with the wading-pool-sized container of ice tea mix, pretty much take up an entire shelf.

That's why grocery shoppers have to adjust their thinking when they shop at Sam's Club.

For instance, let's say you're at Sam's and you think: Maybe I'll buy a steak for dinner tonight.

OK, that isn't going to work.

Instead, your thinking should be: Maybe I'll buy this huge shrink-wrapped tray of six steaks for dinner tonight -- to the tune of 49 bucks -- and then pray I can actually lift it out of the meat case without getting a hernia.

Same thing with toiletries, paper products, household cleaning supplies, etc.

You wouldn't buy one small bottle of shampoo at Sam's -- you'd buy two missile-sized bottles that will barely fit in your bathroom closet, since you also have to make room for the 25-pack of toilet paper you're picking up.

Shoppers who are new to the Sam's Club Experience are always surprised to find the store does not offer plastic or paper bags for your purchases after they're rung up.

Store officials say this is one way they keep costs down and pass the savings on to the consumers in the form of lower prices.

Once, in a conversation with another shopper in the checkout line, I likened this no-bags policy to the "tough love" practiced at juvenile detention facilities.

But he said, no, it was more like shopping at a Soviet-era department store, where an announcement such as this might crackle over the loudspeaker: "Workers of the world, you are so spoiled! Now you want bags, too?"

Still, I love the place and look forward each week to getting incredible deals on items we don't need that will eat needlessly into our budget.

Just the other day they had an interesting new display: 70-pound pails of PoolBrand multi-functional chlorinating granules.

OK, we don't actually own a pool.

But when you're in Sam's, that doesn't seem to matter.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd

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