BJs Wholesale Club and Sam’s Club Challenge Costco

Reinvigorated private brands at BJ’s and Sam’s Club boosts company marketing plans. In this report from PLMALive! My Private Brand’s Christopher Durham takes a look at the retailers and their brands.

Clubs Close the Gap

After years of playing second fiddle to Costco, BJs Wholesale Club and Walmart-owned Sam’s Club are making moves to close the gap.

Costco’s Kirkland Signature, with estimated annual sales of 24.6-Billion dollars, has long been the standard bearer of private brand in the club channel. However, both number two Sam’s Club, and number three BJ’s Wholesale club are setting their sights on stealing share.

In early 2017, Sam’s Club announced the reinvention of its 10-Billion-dollar private brand, Member’s Mark. The updated brand was the result of substantial investment over the prior year, streamlining 21 private brands into one. It’s a move which placed the single twenty-year-old brand in head-to-head competition with Costco.

But the move was more than a redesign, more than just slapping on a label. As part of the revamp, Sam’s Club expanded its private brand team to more than 60 members with dedicated product developers, culinary experts and food scientists to ensure each item met quality and value standards.

This year Sam’s Club will introduce 300 new Members Mark products with another 300 planned for 2018. The updated brand will stretch from fresh food to apparel to health and wellness. New to shelves are U.S.-sourced honey from independent beekeepers, Fair Trade-certified K-cup coffee and heat-and-serve, all-natural pulled pork with three simple ingredients: Pork, Water and Seasoning.

Along with products, consumers will also find new packaging and colors, and a bold, modern logo designed to unify the entire line.

In early 2016, BJ’s Wholesale Club engaged a brand auction house to market and sell seven of its private brand trademarks including Earth’s Pride and its sub-brands, Generation Earth, Rozanno, Healthy Helpings and Lyndon Reade. The move signaled a shift in strategy and a dramatic consolidation of its private brand portfolio that would ultimately reduce it to a focused set of two brands. Packaged and fresh-food brand Wellsley Farms, and the all-encompassing Berkley Jensen which includes essentially everything else: pet food, office supplies, and cleaning and household products as well as diapers, furniture, small appliances, and bedding.

In September, BJ’s Wholesale Club announced two new websites dedicated to showcasing Berkley Jensen and Wellsley Farms. The new websites allow BJ’s to tell the story of these brands, educating members on quality and assortment, while enabling them to research products and shop. BJ’s is the first wholesale club to offer websites dedicated to its brands.
In rethinking its brands, BJ’s, like its competitors, has refocused on quality across its entire product mix. Most recently Berkley Jensen Ultra Soft Bath Tissue won the coveted Good Housekeeping “Best of” Test.

According to Good Housekeeping, Berkley Jensen Ultra Soft Bath Tissue had the best overall score and price from their top choices. The bath tissue earned high marks in softness and dissolvability, and received the highest overall score in absorbency.

The result of all the hard work is that both retailers have emerged with optimized and redesigned private brands, focused on their customers and designed to win.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.