Costco's Kirkland Brand Was Almost Called Something Way Different

Costco is the third-largest retailer in the United States, trailing only Walmart and Amazon (via National Retail Federation). And yet, the wholesale warehouse brand still manages to feel like an exclusive club. There's something about flashing your membership card and copping a whole rotisserie chicken for less than five bucks that makes you feel special — almost like you're getting away with something. Weirdly enough, despite the vast scale of its stores, Costco doesn't offer a very wide selection of items compared to its competitors. According to Britannica, the average Costco location only carries one-tenth of the variety you'd find in most supermarkets. But variety isn't really the point when you're shopping at Costco. The bargain prices are the real draw.

One of the main keys to Costco's low prices (and limited variety) is the fact that most of its products are sold under the Kirkland Signature brand. According to CNN Business, store brands like Kirkland typically offer goods for 10% to 50% less than name-brand competitors. But these store brands have a dirty little secret. The reason they seem so similar to name brands is that they are the same brands. Most stores are secretive about their sources, but CNN reveals that Kirkland diapers are actually made by Huggies and the batteries are Duracell. These days, retailers have more power than suppliers, so they call the shots, but Costco's dominion over its labels almost took a different route. How popular would they be if Kirkland had never become Kirkland?

It was almost named after a major West Coast city

The Kirkland brand did not exist when Costco started doing business. CNN Business explains that the wholesaler did have its own store brands, but the names were different for each product. There were approximately 30 unique in-house Costco brands, including Clout detergent, Simply Soda, and Chelsea toilet paper. That changed in the early 1990s when Costco co-founder and then-CEO Jim Sinegal read a Forbes report about the growing popularity of private-label goods. As name-brand products were getting more expensive, customers were beginning to abandon brand loyalty for better bargains. Sinegal decided that Costco should overhaul all of its house brands, improving their quality and consolidating them under a single name. The only question was — what should that name be?

Costco was founded in Seattle, Washington (via Britannica), and the company was headquartered in that city for years. According to Reader's Digest, when he decided to rename the store's brand, Jim Sinegal figured there was a natural choice. He would call it "Seattle Signature." It seemed like the perfect name until they hit a snag. Sinegal was unable to clear a trademark for the Seattle Signature name, so he had to go back to square one. Fortunately, another name was waiting to be found, right in Costco's backyard.

Kirkland isn't far from the original name

Just east of Seattle, on the shores of Lake Washington, there is a suburban city of around 80,000 residents. Its name? You guessed it. Kirkland. It's actually one of Seattle's oldest suburbs, being the first city founded on Lake Washington's east side, and it has a long history as an industrial hub. According to Reader's Digest, Costco's flagship warehouse was located in Kirkland, so when the "Seattle Signature" name was taken off the table, they simply looked to the east and renamed the brand after another Washington city.

In the end, it's probably for the best that they couldn't clear the name of Seattle Signature because the word "Seattle" could never be so totally associated with the brand in the same way Kirkland is. Be honest with yourself. Unless you live in the Seattle area, did you even know that Kirkland was the name of a city until just now? Though this might irk some of Kirkland's residents, the name has been thoroughly co-opted by Costco. They actually considered changing the brand name again when the company moved its headquarters to Issaquah, Washington shortly thereafter. However, as CNN reports, Sinegal determined that "Nobody could spell Issaquah."