Sol Price, 93, founder of Price Club who helped pioneer the warehouse-superstore sales model that grew into a multibillion-dollar industry, died yesterday of natural causes in La Jolla, Calif.
He was considered an innovator and leader in the retail merchandising industry whose low-cost, no-frills sales model was credited with inspiring other big-box giants.
His Price Club stores merged with Costco in 1993.
Mr. Price was working as a lawyer in San Diego in 1954 when he founded FedMart, a discount department store that was open to federal, state, and local government employees for a membership fee of $2 a family. The concept was based on a membership model already being used by the Fedco chain, a nonprofit cooperative in Southern California.
Mr. Price was involved with FedMart for more than two decades but was fired in 1976 after it was bought by a German firm.
At age 60, he found himself locked out of his office. But that same year, he and his son Robert founded Price Club, using money invested by family members and acquaintances. The store opened in an abandoned airport hangar in San Diego.
At first, it was simply a discount wholesaler that catered to small-business owners and offered limited merchandise in large quantities. But Mr. Price quickly broadened the membership. "Early on, Mr. Price was determined to keep prices and overhead low, figuring he would make a profit on the volume of sales," according to an obituary provided by family spokeswoman Sherry Bahrambeygui.
At Price Club's peak in 1992, there were 94 stores in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, doing $6.6 billion in business. Mr. Price and his son later founded PriceSmart, a warehouse-style chain with stores in Latin America and the Caribbean.