By  on July 22, 2008

Sam’s Club on Monday said it will offer a special $40 yearly membership to college students with valid IDs and collegiate e-mail addresses.

The outreach to students is a first for the warehouse club, which has long focused on building membership of small business owners. Along with the collegiate membership, Sam’s is giving students a $15 gift card to help offset the cost of their first purchase and a complimentary add-on card for roommates or housemates.

Sam’s traditional memberships are the advantage membership, which includes two annual cards: a personal card and another one for a household member over 18, for $40, and the business membership with three annual cards — a personal card, one for a household member over 18 years of age and a company card, for $35. Two upgraded plans are available at higher prices and include various perks.

With the dismal economy impacting corporate America and smaller businesses, Sam’s is expanding its client base. In general, warehouse clubs have been doing well in the weakened economy. Wal-Mart in June logged a 5.8 percent increase in same-store sales, not including gas, at its U.S. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. Costco’s same-store sales rose 9 percent and BJ’s Wholesale Club’s gained 8.3 percent.

Sam’s, which offers deals for business owners on 35-quart commercial mop buckets and wringers, $33.28, and 30-packs of bathroom tissue, $18.88, has been reaching out to families with a variety of prepared and heat-and-serve meals.

Sam’s has attempted to grab some of Costco’s business — that warehouse club tends to appeal to more upscale individuals with gourmet foods, fine wines, high-priced jewelry, exercise equipment and outdoor furniture — by selling affordable luxuries and pricier products such as plasma and high-def TVs. Costco does not offer a similar card geared to college students.

A survey recently commissioned by Sam’s Club found that  89 percent of Americans are concerned about college tuition, and given the economic climate, cited food and beverages as a big expense. The results played right into Sam’s strength in the grocery department.

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