Costco (NASDAQ:COST) is a gem among retailers, particularly those in the discounter universe. It's a well-managed, smart company, with great labor relations and a diverse customer base. It may have a no-frills setting with its warehouse-chic style, but that's actually part of the appeal.

Who knew so many people would clamor for bulk goods? It turns out that almost comically large tubs and trays and bundles of goods sold cheap are a siren song for many shoppers. Maybe that's why (NASDAQ:AMZN) couldn't resist the temptation to try to push bulk foods e-commerce style.

And speaking of business, Costco's membership base has an emphasis on business clientele -- and the retailer has sought to provide merchandise for both corporate and personal needs, a magic combination that has worked wonderfully. The Costco demographic includes affluent shoppers who love to hunt through its selection for high-end merchandise sold at a discount, and that well-heeled bunch of loyal customers gives it insulation against tough economic times as well.

Consider Costco's strategy of cycling in upscale merchandise at dazzling deals, too. The realization that those irresistible steals on some high-end, designer goods may not be there on your next trip is why Costco customers snap up so much stuff. Basically, you snooze, you lose. All told, Costco's $60 billion in annual sales this past year is nothing to sneeze at. Its extremely high sales volume and pragmatic lack of warehouse frills have allowed it to serve up great deals and operate profitably.

Management finesse
Meanwhile, Costco shines because of its exemplary management, too. Some of its executives recently made a classy move related to the company's recent options grant "imprecisions," and Jim Sinegal's down-to-earth, practical management style is a big part of the reason why I nominated him as an example of a Most Foolish CEO. (Sinegal has often made a good Foolish interviewee, too.) Meanwhile, the company's board of directors includes a star in the investing world -- Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A).

Part of Costco's management style has been its long-standing goal to treat its employees -- all of its employees -- well. That's one of many areas where big-time discount rival Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) is frequently criticized. Costco provides extremely competitive wages and health-care benefits to its employees, resulting in an extremely low rate of employee turnover compared with much of the retail universe. And let's face it -- when you're looking to invest in a good, solid business for the long run, considering how well it treats its rank-and-file employees is a great place to start.

Costco's steady growth
Costco has carefully plotted where it places its warehouses. It has only about 488 warehouses -- both here and internationally -- and many of them stand on real estate that Costco has purchased, thereby freeing the company from too much in the way of recurring operating lease expenses. Costco still has plenty of room for carefully calculated growth, too -- in its latest fiscal year, it opened 27 new warehouses, including three in Canada, two in the U.K., and two in Mexico. It plans to open 35 in the current year.

Costco may look a little bit pricey at the moment. Its earnings per share grew by only 5.5% in its most recent fiscal year -- funny, its stock price has also risen 5.5% in the past 12 months. For the next three years, earnings are expected to grow between 12% and 17%. Of course, that makes the stock appear pricey, given that it's currently trading at a forward P/E of 18, but there are other elements at work with Costco that could make one wonder whether taking a nickel-and-dime approach is wise, considering this is a great stock to have and to hold for the long term.

Furthermore, it's pretty well known that Costco has never been about scrambling to meet Wall Street's expectations for the short term -- in other words, it doesn't try to squeeze its customers or its employees to wring out short-term gain. Not doing that affords the company a lot of goodwill and loyalty and places it in a great position for future success. Costco seeks to build a good, solid, dependable business, with the idea that that is exactly what will reward shareholders over the long haul. And what more could long-term investors want?

Costco and are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Wal-Mart and Berkshire Hathaway are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Try out these or any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.