VONS SETTLES INTO INNER-CITY NICHE

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Charity isn't the only motive for supermarkets to move into lower-income urban areas. Good business sense is.

That's what Vons Cos. of Arcadia, Calif., southern California's largest supermarket operator, says it has learned from the decision to spend $100 million in five years to build about 10 stores in underserved urban areas. Two Vons and an Expo store, ranging from 49,000 to 86,000 square feet, have opened so far in the towns of Compton, Inglewood and Pomona. Others are planned, but Vons won't disclose potential locations.

Building the stores "was a prudent business decision for our shareholders, customers and employees," said a Vons spokeswoman.

She wouldn't give specifics on the company's estimate of the inner-city market's size or how well the stores were doing financially.

Each store was launched with a different combination of radio, print and TV advertising, and a public relations effort, handled by DDB Needham Worldwide, Los Angeles, and in-house.

Vons announced plans for the stores in April 1991, a year before the Los Angeles riots.

Focus groups helped determine what types of products were desired and explored other concerns, including security and store design.

Retailers-such as dry cleaners, delis, an eyewear company and banks-have joined Vons in creating full-service supermarkets.

But that's not all. Through the Jobs & Neighbors Initiative program, the stores are staffed with up to 150 locals, including youth who must maintain their grade point averages to keep their jobs.

In addition to serving the estimated 1.2 million people in South Central Los Angeles, Vons operates 344 stores under the Vons, Pavilions and Expo names, mostly in the suburbs.

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