How Costco's 'Kirkland Signature' Got Its Name

What do meat, dog beds, and underwear all have in common? Kirkland Signature.
What do meat, dog beds, and underwear all have in common? Kirkland Signature. / Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Walk into any superstore (or even a regular-sized store), and you’ll probably see at least a few different brands that are specific to that retailer. Walmart, for example, has Great Value for food products and Equate for toiletries, among many other private labels in a variety of categories. Costco, on the other hand, has only one: Kirkland Signature. Since it’s used for everything from allergy medicine to golf balls, those two words are ubiquitous in Costco’s brick-and-mortar stores, and many longtime shoppers are also loyal fans of Kirkland Signature-branded products.

Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal decided to get into the private label business back in the 1990s after realizing that about half of the products in UK supermarkets were store brands. But instead of diversifying like Walmart and other stores, he wanted a single brand—and he wanted to name it Seattle Signature.

Sinegal had gotten his big break in the wholesaler industry as an executive vice president at Price Club, based in San Diego, California, and he decided to relocate his own fledgling business to Seattle to avoid competing with his former employer.

"While I consider myself a Californian and we recruited (many) people from California, there was a great community (of people) here and we were committed to staying in (Washington)," Sinegal told the Kirkland Reporter.

The private label was meant to be a not-so-subtle nod to Costco’s hometown. Unfortunately, as Reader’s Digest reports, “Seattle’s Signature” didn’t get approval, so Sinegal went with “Kirkland’s Signature” instead. That was also a tribute to Costco’s geographic history; Kirkland is a small city northeast of Seattle where Sinegal opened the eighth Costco warehouse. Shortly after that, he relocated the corporate headquarters to Kirkland, too.

As far as we know, the venerated entrepreneur was fine with changing the name. What he wasn’t fine with was the prospect of raising the price on the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo: When Costco president W. Craig Jelinek suggested it, Sinegal threatened to kill him.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]