Chief Executive Jim Sinegal walks onstage looking every bit the next-door neighbor he's come to embody to shareholders: White hair. Eyeglasses Eyeglasses. A belly...

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Chief Executive Jim Sinegal walks onstage looking every bit the next-door neighbor he’s come to embody to shareholders:

White hair. Eyeglasses. A belly that hangs slightly over his belt.

“He never wears a tie,” an elderly man whispers to his wife as the meeting begins.

Costco yesterday morning held its annual shareholders meeting at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue before a packed audience. The Fortune 500 company ran the meeting like it runs its business: frill-free.

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The warehouse-club served quartered bagels, muffins and fruit. It featured displays on everything from its gasoline stations to an affordable gazebo sold in stores.

“I think we have a video we’re going to show,” Sinegal says into the microphone to no one in particular. “Can someone tell me how to turn it on?”

Two giant screens flash a series of video clips in which celebrities mention Costco by name: on “Live with Regis and Kelly,” on “Dr. Phil” and on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” — twice. One clip shows Ellen DeGeneres presenting Donald Trump with an executive membership to Costco on a silver platter.


Costco 2004




Warehouses:
449


Average sales per store:
$115 million


No. of employees:
100,000


Cardholders:
43 million


Transactions:
1 million a day


Biggest diamond sold:
7.12 carats for $235,000

Hot dog/soda combos sold: more than 50 million

Source: Costco


But forget the name recognition. Forget the $47.1 billion in 2004 fiscal year sales. Forget last year’s $882 million profit.

What shareholders really wanted to know yesterday:

When the Kirkland-brand tennis shoes would return (they’ve been reordered); whether shareholders should receive a discounted membership (nope); why they don’t carry more low-fat items (they reorder what they can sell; look for the organic milk, by the way); why no express lanes (sorry); why they don’t have dressing areas (someday they’ll figure it out).

Chairman Jeffrey Brotman and Sinegal highlighted other areas of the business that performed well last fiscal year.

Gas stations: $2.3 billion in sales.

Apple iPods: $20 million in six weeks. (They would’ve sold more if they’d had more.)

Wine: $647 million in sales.

Rotisserie chickens: 22 million pieces.

The company’s online site, Costco.com, posted $375 million in sales last year, a 66 percent jump over the year before. While the online site features everything from diamond earrings to caskets (The Lady of Guadalupe 18-gauge steel model runs $924.99), its most noteworthy sale was an original Picasso crayon-on-paper drawing, which went for $39,999.

It was the second original Picasso sold on the site.

All of this seemed to please Joyce and Merle Steffenson, who bought shares in 1987 after Merle went there for a lawnmower.

Merle, 72, returned home and told his wife, “Man, did I find a store.”

The two went to Costco and saw customers pushing big handcarts stacked with merchandise and how the cash registers kept ringing.

“It’s our favorite stock,” said Joyce, 67, “and our favorite place to go for fun.”

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com