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Hoping for a P.E.I. Costco? Our growing population might be on your side

Tim Carroll, UPEI associate business professor, says the province's rapid growth — coupled with strong buying power due to tourism — position it as a location a store like Costco may be eyeing.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Tim Carroll, UPEI associate business professor, says the province's rapid growth — coupled with strong buying power due to tourism — position it as a location a store like Costco may be eyeing. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

This story is from this week's episode of the new CBC podcast Good Question, P.E.I. 

Listen here.

Good Question, P.E.I. is available on CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts.

It's a ritual near and dear to the hearts of many Islanders: stocking up at Costco as part of an off-Island road trip.

But will Islanders ever be able to load up on absurd quantities of toilet paper and rotisserie chickens within their home province?

Many P.E.I. residents hope so.

"There's a lot of products I can get here, but whenever you have kids and you entertain a lot and we have a lot of kids over… buying in bulk usually saves a lot," said Shawna Ryan, who lives on P.E.I. and submitted her question about Costco to CBC.

"I think we all really want to spend our money in P.E.I., so there's always that little bit of guilt when spending your money off-Island. But with the cost of everything now, I think people are just looking for the best deal."

Ryan said she makes three to four trips per year to the warehouse store, usually as part of another planned trip off-Island that takes the family through Moncton, N.B., home of the closest Costco to P.E.I.

She is often encouraged to buy an executive membership because of the size of her order, but living a province away holds her back.

"I always say, 'Are we getting one any time soon?' and they always say, 'Oh it shouldn't be too long now'," Ryan said.

"But it's been probably seven or eight years and they are still saying that!"

Every week Good Question, P.E.I. tackles a question submitted by listeners. Nothing is too big, too small, too serious or too silly. Have a question? Email goodquestionpei@cbc.ca.
Every week Good Question, P.E.I. tackles a question submitted by listeners. Nothing is too big, too small, too serious or too silly. Have a question? Email goodquestionpei@cbc.ca.

Every week, Good Question, P.E.I. tackles a question submitted by listeners. Nothing is too big, too small, too serious or too silly. Have a question? Email goodquestionpei@cbc.ca. (CBC)

And while Costco has not publicly shared any plans to open a location on P.E.I., Tim Carroll, UPEI associate business professor, said that does not mean the company is not eyeing the Island.

Particularly because of our rapidly growing population.

"For retailers, that says one word: opportunity," Carroll said.

"These stores are set up to logistically bring in products from all over the world, and to make them available to their customers here locally. And to turn that over at a fast enough rate to create a return."

The professor and former Island MLA said while we may think of companies like Costco to be retailers of products, they are more closely linked to the real estate development business: working with local developers to generate shopping destinations from scratch.

That's why you often see these warehouse stores pop up in the outskirts of cities like Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John or Halifax, only to quickly be surrounded by other big-box stores.

"If somebody wanted to do a retail location destination on Prince Edward Island, then it would be a large plan that would span over 10 or 15 years. It would start out with an anchor — like Costco — and from there they would be projected to add more and more retail stores," Carroll said.

"They become part of a real estate development, and I think that's important for people to look at … once [Costco] established there was a market, they would rely on real estate developers to create a location for them.

"Believe it or not, [Costco] would be quite happy to see competitors because they are a destination and they are prepared to compete."

So if you're in the camp of folks routing for a Costco, you can sit back and watch P.E.I.'s numbers grow and hope for the best.

It's up to us ... sort of

In the meantime, Carroll said those weekend Costco runs might actually also be hurting P.E.I.'s chances at a warehouse store of its own.

Shoppers are pictured at Costco in Bellingham, Washington on Thursday, April 1, 2022.
Shoppers are pictured at Costco in Bellingham, Washington on Thursday, April 1, 2022.

Carroll says big-box and warehouse stores rely on the high turnover of products, and often have a certain population threshold in mind. It's possible P.E.I. is approaching that number. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It's really not quite all up to Costco," he said.

"If we are happy and continue to be, and they continue to get what they expect in terms of a share by people travelling to Moncton and Halifax, then they may continue to do that and decide, 'We don't need to go to P.E.I.'"

As for Shawna Ryan, she said her dreams of a P.E.I. location are still very alive.

"I think it's only a matter of time, with the way that we are growing here," she said.

"Any time that you go into the grocery store, there's no slow times anymore, it seems. So I think there's lots of business to go around our little Island."

CBC News reached out to Costco for this story and did not hear back.

For more on how warehouse stores choose their locations, how an Island Costco would impact local business and the province's buying power, listen to this week's episode of Good Question, P.E.I.

Have a question for an episode? Good Question, P.E.I. wants to hear from you!

Email goodquestionpei@cbc.ca or call our talkback line at 1-800-680-1898.