🔒 Inside Sam’s Club: The company, its history and how the bulk-buying vision has endured

ROLLING MEADOWS, IL - JANUARY 12: A shopping cart sits in the parking lot of a Sam's Club store January 12, 2010 in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson, 2010 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – I went into a Sam’s Club for the first time in early August 2022.

First impressions? Well, mine was a little informed by my recent grocery bills at mainstream traditional stores: How -- in this era of record inflation -- could prices look like they’d hopped off a 1995 grocery mailer?

That was just one of my thoughts as I perused the warehouse that is Sam’s Club in Sugar Land. Others were about the crowds.

As I watched the people queuing up for hotdogs and berry sundaes it struck me: this place was where adults go to adult -- to live with their fully-committed decisions to buy seriously enormous amounts of things.

Also, this is where people were traveling -- actually going someplace to shop. It was a shopping destination -- for real. Though I did spot the Scan & Go option and the curbside pickup signs, most people were there for the thrill of the hunt -- the deal. It was like stepping back in time. And I was THERE for it.

I racked up a receipt in the hundreds of dollars, but over time the purchases would save -- per unit -- serious amounts of cash.

How was this accomplished? Where did it all start? How was this possible?

I knew I had to find out.

So I dug into Sam’s Club’s history and found the retail giant behind the retail giant: Sam Walton.

Sam’s Club’s origins

Sam Walton’s Walmart vision was a starting point for his legacy, built from a five and dime franchise that was extremely Walmart successful when he opened the first Sam’s Club location in Midwest City, Oklahoma on April 7, 1983. The vision for Sam’s Club -- 21 years after the first Walmart opened -- was perhaps, let’s say, borrowed from another chain called Price Mart in California. Sara Gilbert notes in her book “Built for Success: The Story of Walmart” that Walton had visited the store earlier in the year and decided to copy its business model. Like its predecessor, Sam’s Club was open to members only who paid an annual fee to shop at the warehouse-style store, products sold in bulk packaging and often, directly off of shipping pallets.

Inside the Sam’s Club vision

At the dedication of the first store, according to Sam’s Club anniversary materials, Walton shared with the new associates and guests, “when one of our experiments works, watch out.”

Sam’s Club says Walton began the stores as a wholesale club to help small business owners save on everyday items they needed to run their operations. Through the years, the format evolved to include the general public and an assorted merchandise mix from fresh meats and produce to high end electronics, pharmacy, travel and other services like tire and battery centers.

How wholesale works and why prices are so low at Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club has a cover charge and that certainly helps with costs, but further it has what the company calls “a limited-item business model” that offers members products at lower prices than traditional retail. Here’s how the company puts it: “Instead of stocking every item in every available brand, Sam’s Club merchants do their homework for our members, stocking the right products and purchasing them in large quantities, passing on the savings to our members.”

The company says it also reduces costs by maintaining a simple shopping environment, often displaying merchandise on shipping pallets so employees can move new items into the stores.

Timeline

1983: The First Sam’s Club opened in Midwest City, Okla.

1991: Sam’s Club goes international beginning in Mexico City and expanding to Puerto Rico, China, Mexico, Brazil and Canada.

1994: Walmart buys 80 Pace Membership Clubs, converts them into Sam’s Club locations.

1997: First gas station opens in Wichita, Kan.

1998: First Sam’s Club pharmacy opens in Tulsa, Okla.

2000: Samsclub.com launches on June 24

2001: Six women file a class-action employment-discrimination against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- including Sam’s Club stores -- in federal court in San Francisco. They charged that Walmart discriminated against women in pay and promotions to management.

2002: 500th Club opened in Fort Worth, Texas.

2004: Walmart conforms to Chinese law and recognizes unions in its stores in that country when its associates request such action.

2006: A judge approved a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. by employees in Pennsylvania who say the company pressured them to work off the clock, claims that mirror those in suits filed around the country. Walmart Inc. denied the allegations. Read more from NBC News.

2007: Sam’s Club celebrates 25 years

2010: A Brownsville municipal court judge sued a local Sam’s Club and its owner, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., alleging that an unnecessary customer service dispute led to his confinement in mental health facilities. Read more here from the Associated Press.

2011: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes was dismissed for being too expansive, Vox reported.

2015: Union says Walmart shut five stores over labor activism. Read the report from CBS News.

2017: The Associated Press reported a transgender woman claimed in federal lawsuit that she was called “it” and “thing” by co-workers and then wrongfully fired from a North Carolina Sam’s Club store after repeatedly complaining about harassment. Read more here.

2018: Three Houston-area Sam’s Club locations close.

2018: A class action lawsuit challenges Walmart and Sam’s Club’s timekeeping practices that allegedly fail to account for off-the-clock pre- and post-shift work. See the lawsuit.

2018: The U.S. files a disability discrimination suit on behalf of Sam’s Club food demonstrators. Read more here with a subscription.

2018: Walmart and Sam’s Club resolve with the federal government in Minnesota to pay $825,000 to resolve fraud allegations concerning auto refilling Medicaid prescriptions. Read more here.

2020: Walmart, Inc. to pay $20 million to settle EEOC nationwide hiring discrimination case. Retail Giant to cease physical abilities testing which disproportionally excluded female order filler applicants, federal agency charged. Read more about the case here.

2021: Sam’s Club raises its minimum wage from $11 to $15 an hour.

2022: Walmart Inc. confirms to news outlets that it has begun to lay off corporate employees amid record inflation and recession fears. Read more here.

2022: Sam’s Club raises its annual membership fee for the first time in nine years. Starting Oct. 17, fees will increase from $45 to $50 for club members and from $100 to $110 for members of its higher-tier level, “Plus.”

View the official Sam’s Club timeline.

View the official Walmart timeline. See the official timeline on its website.

See how the Sam’s Club logo has changed through the years

Current logo, 2019:

The Sam's Club logo (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

2006-2019

Sam's Club will be closed on Thanksgiving before opening at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. (Sam's Club via CNN)

1993-2006

19. Sam's Club

See more logos dating back to Sam’s Club’s inception from logos-world.net.

How big is Sam’s Club?

There are almost 600 clubs across the U.S and Puerto Rico and each averages about 136,000 square feet, according to the company’s official website.

How much money does Sam’s Club make?

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2022, Sam’s Club’s total revenue was $73.6 billion, according to its official website.

Who is in charge of Sam’s Club today?

Sam’s Club is a division of Walmart Inc. Its President and CEO is Kathryn McLay and the headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas.

How many people does Sam’s Club employ?

Walmart Inc., the parent company of Sam’s Club, has nearly 1.6 million workers and is the largest employer in the country. Sam’s Club has nearly 600 stores and about 100,000 employees.

Employee history and benefits

Walmart Inc., the parent company of Sam’s Club, is the nation’s largest employer, with nearly 1.6 million workers. Walmart Inc. has an anti-unionization stance. It has historically been at the center of a lawsuits around gender discrimination and sex-based hiring discrimination. See more in the timeline above.

Some Sam’s Club employees have health plan options, including vision and dental plans for the employee and dependents, free membership and discounts in fresh produce, financial benefits including 401(k), stock purchase plans, life insurance, paid education assistance with college degrees through our Live Better U program, parental Leave, pay during military service, paid time off - to include vacation, sick leave and parental leave, short-term and long-term disability for when you can’t work because of injury, illness, or childbirth. Eligibility requirements apply to some benefits and may depend on your job classification and length of employment. Benefits are subject to change and may be subject to specific plan or program terms. For information about benefits and eligibility, see One.Walmart.com/Benefits.

Houston-area locations

Sam’s Club has 19 Houston-area locations. See a map with the address of all of the locations below.

Sam’s Club locations in the Houston area:

  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 4769 - 5310 S. Rice Ave. - Houston, TX 77081
  • Sugar Land Sam’s Club - No. 4763 - 351 Hwy #6 - Sugar Land, TX 77478
  • Stafford Sam’s Club - No. 8246 - 12300 S.W. Fwy. - Stafford, TX 77477
  • Richmond Sam’s Club - No. 6867 - 22402 Bellaire Blvd - Richmond, TX 77407
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 4712 - 10488 Old Katy Rd. - Houston, TX 77043
  • Katy Sam’s Club - No. 4764 - 20424 Katy Fwy. - Katy, TX 77449
  • Pearland Sam’s Club - No. 4843 - 15800 S. Freeway - Pearland, TX 77584
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 8274 - 12205 West Rd. - Houston, TX 77065
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 8244 - 11101 Fuqua St. - Houston, TX 77089
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 4721 - 7950 F.M. 1960 W. - Houston, TX 77070
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 8281 - 13600 East Fwy - Houston, TX 77015
  • Friendswood Sam’s Club - No. 4702 - 155 W El Dorado Blvd. - Friendswood, TX 77546
  • Houston Sam’s Club - No. 8245 - 325 E. Richey Rd. - Houston, TX 77073
  • Humble Sam’s Club - No. 6367 - 9665 Fm 1960 Bypass Rd W - Humble, TX 77338
  • La Marque Sam’s Club - No. 8190 - 6614 Gulf Freeway - La Marque, TX 77568
  • Shenandoah Sam’s Club - No. 4713 - 19091 I 45 S - Shenandoah, TX 77385
  • Conroe Sam’s Club - No. 6421 - 2000 Westview Blvd. - Conroe, TX 77304
  • College Station Sam’s Club - No. 6338 - 1405 E. Earl Rudder Fwy. - College Station, TX 77845
  • Victoria Sam’s Club - No. 6471 - 9202 N Navarro St - Victoria, TX 77904

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About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.