WILMINGTON, Del. -- Beneficial National Bank USA, a specialist in private-label credit cards, is adding members of BJ's Wholesale Club to its portfolio.

The private-label program for BJ's, announced this month, is believed the first in the wholesale club industry, which represents $35 billion of annual sales volume.

"The wholesale-club industry is the fastest-growing segment of retail. As the premier club in the East, BJ's is the perfect operation for us to offer the BJ's Credit Card," said Richard C. Klesse, senior vice president, sales and marketing at the bank.

Processing Costs Cited

He said customers would pay no annual fee for the card. The variable rate is "competitive with bank cards" at 17.9% in today's environment, he said.

BJ's and other warehouse clubs have resisted accepting bank cards and American Express cards because processing fees are too high.

"We need to keep our costs low so we can pass on the savings," said Susan Grieb, a spokesman for BJ's, which is based in Natick, Mass.

Mr. Klesse said because the private label card is processed directly by Beneficial the interchange fee charged by issuing banks to merchants' banks is not a factor, as it would be for MasterCard International or Visa U.S.A. transactions.

Beneficial issues private-label cards for 30 merchants, ranging from such national chains as Rhodes Furniture to regional operations like the Handy Andy home repair outlets in the midwest.

Tested at Five Clubs

Beneficial serves a total of 1.8 million accounts, about half of them active. Outstandings exceed $710 million.

BJ's tested its credit card in five clubs last spring to gauge member response. The results were "astounding," said Jack Nugent, president, BJ's Wholesale Club.

He said the company worked quickly to implement the service throughout the chain before the busy holiday season.

BJ's operates 47 clubs in 12 states from Maine to Florida and will open five more clubs before the end of 1993. It is a division of Waban Inc. and had sales totaling $1.8 billion in 1992.

A Promising Alliance Bank Beneficial National Bank USA Client BJ's Wholesale Club

Size of retail 47 stores in 12 franchise states, with 1992 sales volume of $1.8 billion

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