Carlos Galvan, Jr. has since 2008 been serving as vice-president and chief financial officer of family-owned La Amapola, Inc., a chain of three ‘upper-lower’ grocery stores that cater primarily to the Latino market. It was founded by his grandfather, Francisco, in 1961.
With grandpa Francisco’s retirement in 1974, Carlos Jr.’s father, Carlos Sr., took over as president and chief executive officer. Grandpa Francisco died in 1979. The first Amapola store location, in South L.A., started small, offering only tortillas and masa (used for tamales) at first, and branched out into meats and full-service deli only in the 1980s. Today the original location remains the smallest of the three Amapola Markets, occupying only 9,000-sq. ft.
With product acceptance came steady, gradual growth. “My grandparents’ and father’s hard work hard work paved the way for us,” said Carlos Jr. “Today the business is flourishing, with Amapola’s special-recipe tortillas leading the way still as its number one money-maker. The chain’s product line now also includes tamales, carnitas, prepared foods, meats and fresh produce.” There is a sense of accelerated success, he said. “It took 35 years to open our second location here in Downey. It only took 10 years to open our third, on Paramount Boulevard and Garfield Avenue (11,000-sq. ft.).
This here Downey location (Florence Avenue and Old River School Road) is our biggest store, occupying 25,000 sq. ft.” The stores’ operations are similar to the giant grocery stores’, such as Ralph’s, Vons, Albertsons, and the like. “Of course, we cannot compete with them price-wise because they purchase in bulk and they have economies of scale which we don’t enjoy,” he continued. “In this business, however, we don’t really compete with anyone. There’s room for everybody.” What would set a grocery store apart, he said, is maintenance of its expected level of quality. “In fact,” he said, “each of our branch managers has responsibility for three main areas: keep the store clean, keep it operating well, strive to keep it profitable. We have been doing well on these fronts so far.” “My father, Carlos Sr., has an accounting degree, back in Guadalajara where our roots are. I have two other brothers who assist in other operational areas (marketing and promotion, maintenance, equipment).
Because of my nine-year banking background, I pay more attention to administrative (workers’ comp), financial (insurance) and other legal matters. We make decisions by committee, with my father having the final say in all significant matters. Because of advancing age, pop has mellowed a bit but he’s still firmly in control.” A Warren High graduate, Carlos Jr. has a bachelor’s degree in political science (’89) from UC-Riverside. He is currently pursuing his MBA degree in finance with the University of Phoenix. A member of the Downey Chamber of Commerce as well as other area chambers (Santa Fe Springs Chamber of Commerce; Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and of the Regional Hispanic Institute, of which he is current chairman), he is also chairman of the city of Downey’s Public Facilities Financing Corporation, which is tasked with “providing assistance to the city by financing the acquisition, construction, improvement and remodeling of public buildings and facilities.” He has been with this 5-member group for nearly three years now. His wife Oseme is a clinical psychologist. They have three sons: Charles, 19, attends Cerritos College; Julien, 15, goes to St. John Bosco; while Marcel is celebrating his 6th birthday on Sept. 2.
He said the family takes the pulse of the grocery industry by analyzing figures and market trends supplied through memberships in such data-oriented associations as the Tortilla Industry Association; California Grocers Association; California Chamber of Commerce; the Mexican-American Grocers Association; and the various Hispanic Chambers of Business and business associations, as well as the regional U.S.-Hispanic chambers of commerce. “A significant part of our success is due to three factors – a good product line, a good following, and tuning to changes in demographics. Also, since we’re community-oriented, our biggest promotion is word-of-mouth.” “Our tortilla operation involves a silo to store our corn, and supplies are trucked in by various vendors and distributors, he continued” Corporate headquarters is in Santa Fe Springs, along with a warehouse where the dry goods are stored and “where we cook the corn. They grind it in the stores.” La Amapola is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a public celebration on Sept. 25. “We’re very grateful to be able to serve our customers for 50 years now. Our success is due to their loyalty,” said Carlos Jr. “We’ll also be saluting our employees. They’re also key to our success. It is they who put in all the hard work. Some of our employees have been with the company for 30 years. Then there’s the city of Downey. Overall, Downey has been a good market for us. It’s been a good city for us and the market here has improved.”