By George Gore Browne, Special to the Independent
“618, 619, 620.” In the midst of empty shelves, abandoned checkout counters and construction noise, prospective employees of all ages waited to hear their assigned number called.
Staff from other nearby Gelson’s markets conducted interviews last Saturday, March 19, with about 75 hopeful applicants, all hoping for a position at the new Gelson’s store expected to open in Laguna Beach in late April. The job fair brings South Laguna residents one step closer to again patronizing a local grocery store after the void left by the demise of the Haggen chain and its local store at 30922 S. Coast Highway last summer.
The Laguna Beach Gelson’s will provide customers with a wide-ranging mix of name brands, unique specialty items, high-quality produce, meat and seafood and a service deli, all accompanied by high levels of service, according to marketing director Yvonne Manganaro.
Gelson’s differentiates itself by marketing to time-starved customers, Manganaro said. “In Southern California you’ve got so many people who are working fulltime, raising families. They have a lot going on and they’re having to go to two, three, sometimes even four different places to do all their shopping.” Gelson’s is for “that person who would rather not go to one place for their organic produce and another place for their detergent,” Manganaro explained.
Founded in 1951, Gelson’s currently operates 21 grocery stores in Southern California and over the last few years targeted Orange County for expansion beyond its current locations in Dana Point, Irvine and Newport Beach. Gelson’s will open in Ladera Ranch next week, on March 31, and is building a store in Rancho Mission Viejo, set to open some time in 2017.
Gelson’s growth in recent years has been fueled by its 2014 acquisition by TPG, according to industry trade publication Supermarket News. The private investment company’s portfolio includes well-known brands such as Burger King and J Crew. TPG acquired the Arden Group, which operates Gelson’s, for $394 million, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported.
Manganaro explained that the chance to take over an existing grocery store in Laguna Beach came up soon after Gelson’s committed to the Rancho Mission Viejo store. To Gelson’s it was “perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.
The Laguna store will hire between 90 and 100 people and will fill these positions in a number of different ways.
As part of its purchase of the former Haggen store, Gelson’s made a deal with the union that represented former Haggen employees and pledged to hire back any who would like to continue working for Gelson’s. New applicants with previous grocery store or food handling experience, Manganaro said, will fill remaining openings.
While Saturday’s turnout was deemed a success, the store will continue to accept applications over the next coming weeks. Some Gelson’s staff from other stores will be reassigned, she said. A local general manager has not yet been announced.
While South Laguna residents developed new shopping habits over recent months, Manganaro expresses confidence that a combination of marketing and knowledge of Gelson’s reputation will lure customers back to the Coast Highway market.
For sometime now, Gelson’s stepped up direct mailing of coupons to local residents. Besides newspaper advertising, the store will also establish community partnerships, Manganaro said.
While many customers questioned Gelson’s strategy in opening another store within two miles of its Dana Point location, Manganaro says such proximity will give the new store a jump start. “During the holidays we have quite an influx of customers from north of our store, who come down to the Dana Point store. So we don’t expect as much of an issue in educating customers about the Gelson’s brand in the Laguna Beach site as it has been in completely new markets.”
Gelson’s President and Chief Executive Rob McDougall and the entire executive team promise to attend the opening ribbon cutting, which will include give-away bags of samples and a beach mat for the first 200 attendee’s.
Maintenance issues prevent store officials from setting a specific opening date, Manganaro said.
George Gore Browne is a journalism student and Laguna Beach Independent intern.
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