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Who's minding the store there?

Britain's Tesco intends to make a splash in the local grocery industry, but companies that want to do business with it can't seem to find it.

January 20, 2007|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

Where's Tesco?

The giant British food retailer plans to open stores in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix with the potential to alter the grocery business in those markets. Yet like children hunting for the elusive figure in the "Where's Waldo?" puzzle books, some local businesses are having difficulty reaching Tesco USA President Tim Mason or his staff.

The company has a U.S. headquarters at 2120 Park Place, Suite 150, in El Segundo and passed out a phone number -- (310) 335-1900 -- through the Chamber of Commerce and later on business cards when it opened the office last month.

But no one at the company answers that number, local businesspeople complain. The address appears in a Dun & Bradstreet search but not in other databases.

Anyone seeking the retailer won't find it by calling 411, as Mike Goodin, manager of Topanga-based Tesco Cable TV (no relation), knows all too well.

"We get a million calls for Tesco -- sometimes it is 50 or 60 a day. We are the only 'Tesco' information has for the 310 area code. That's why we now answer the phone 'Tesco Cable,' " he said.

Tess Enriquez of Tesco & Associates, a Long Beach software firm, has the same problem.

"I tell callers that I don't think this other Tesco exists here in California. People can't seem to find any listing for it," she said.

Ardis Jones, an executive assistant at truck seller Los Angeles Freightliner, tried to call the number Tesco listed on its business card.

"Rang 18 times before I gave up," Jones reported by e-mail.

Other businesses are similarly puzzled by how hard it is to find Tesco's address and phone number in standard business directories.

"Given the fanfare associated with their arrival in the USA, I find it curious that they are not even answering calls from property owners, developers or brokers that have sites suitable for grocery stores," said Doug Huberman, president of RVM Associates, a Pasadena real estate management company. "I have crossed them off my prospect list."

Simon Uwins, chief marketing officer for Tesco USA, said the company "might not have covered all the bases" in publicizing its phone number and address. He said a newer number -- (310) 341-1200 -- was being answered.

Asked this week about the difficulty businesses have had in reaching Tesco, Mason described the division he runs as a small operation whose employees perhaps can't get to the phone because they're "working too hard."

He said the retailer, which planned to spend $2 billion over five years to break into the U.S. market, had visited 600 potential store sites within 250 miles of a sprawling distribution complex being built in Riverside County.

Tesco is in contract talks to open Trader Joe's-size groceries in at least 100 of those locations. The first stores will open in the fourth quarter, Mason said.

On Thursday, Tesco announced that it was spending $13 million to outfit two of the largest buildings at its distribution center with solar power. The photovoltaic system will have a peak generation capacity of 2 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 1,500 California homes. It will supply about 20% of the complex's needs and enable Tesco to earn about $4 million in California tax credits.

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jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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