PORT ORCHARD — The new owner-operators of the just-opened Grocery Outlet Bargain Market are a thankful twosome.
They easily slip the word “blessed” into the conversation about how the married couple made the move from Hawaii to Port Orchard to open South Kitsap’s newest grocery business.
Greg Bovan and Deeann Haberly-Bovan’s dream to own and operate their own Grocery Outlet store took root about five years ago while living in Hawaii. Like most dreams that ultimately are fulfilled, this one took time to germinate.
Bovan had been in the grocery business since 1997, mostly with the Bellingham-based, family-owned Haggen Food. His wife, Haberly-Bovan, had been working outside the food business but was an interested observer as her husband learned the ropes of this competitive industry. Instead, she was a finance specialist who helped nonprofit organizations in Hawaii get financing.
“It took a while for us to come to terms with what we had been called to do,” Haberly-Bovan said. “By the time we finally listened, everything fell into place for us. We’ve been blessed — super blessed.”
When Bovan began mapping out their future plans to own and operate their own grocery store, his first step was to join Emeryville, California-based chain Grocery Outlet, which he said offered him a unique and achievable opportunity to achieve his goal.
First, the Ferndale, Washington, native joined the grocery chain’s “set team” as a merchandising manager. This team regularly hits the road to set up new Grocery Outlet stores under the direction of a new owner-operator. Then, after successfully completing a string of store openings, Bovan was given the opportunity to become an “AOT,” or Aspiring Operator in Training. As an AOT, he was placed in the company’s training program.
“It’s hands-on training where you work for another owner in their store and learn everything, inside and out,” Bovan said. “You are a cashier, you are a stocker and you do everything to learn the business.”
It’s just one part of Grocery Outlet’s process to expand its reach into untapped territories, he said. The company’s strategic planners and real estate team search for sites that fit within the company’s demographic parameters. When a site has been selected and approved, the company then invites AOTs to apply to become that site’s owner-operator.
The hard work navigating through the process continued for Bovan. In the meantime, his wife was brought into the Grocery Outlet family and entered the company’s training program. Then as a husband-and-wife AOT team, they competed for the Port Orchard site alongside an unnamed group of competing AOTs by visiting South Kitsap several times to do market research on the community and then formulated a comprehensive business.
“Grocery Outlet really does their due diligence making sure you’re the right fit,” Haberly-Bovan said.
That includes keeping their selection process neatly under wraps.
“You don’t know how many applied to become an owner-operator, even after being awarded a store.”
Regardless of how the magic is performed in deciding where a store is to be located and who will own and run it, the couple is “super happy to be here.”
Port Orchard is ‘home’
While Grocery Outlet brought the new owner-operators to Port Orchard, the Bovans said the community has found a comfortable place into their hearts.
“Being from Hawaii,” Haberly-Bovan said, “being near water was super-important to me, and Port Orchard fit that bill for us. It’s a really great, welcoming community.”
After making four trips to the area in a span of a couple of weeks as they developed their business plan, the Bovans said Port Orchard “felt more and more like home.”
They met with Matt Murphy, the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, on their first visit. On the second visit, they sat down with Mayor Rob Putaansuu in his office at City Hall. And on another trip, the couple visited with South Kitsap Helpline’s Jennifer Hardison and the team at First Christian Church to discuss helping out their respective programs to help feed the community.
“Every time we came out, there was something else that made us think, ‘Yeah, this feels right.’”
On grand-opening day, the Bovans presented both nonprofit organizations with a check for $1,000 each — supporting Helpline’s food bank and the church’s food backpack program.
Bovan said he and his wife were confident that Grocery Outlet had done its proper due diligence by electing to enter the Port Orchard market, and invest in and build out a new store. For the Bovan family — the couple has three sons, including Jacob, who will be entering school as a freshman this fall — it’s all about the community.
“We view it as we’re blessed enough to have this facility to benefit people who are in need,” Bevan said of the discount grocery store. “People who really need to stretch their dollar more. It’s an honor to be able to provide value to those people.”
The night before the grand opening, employees were invited to bring their family members to the store after work for a preview look at where their loved one is working. And the heartfelt reactions nearly moved the Bovans to tears.
“We got kind of emotional last night when the employees showed off the store to their families,” Bovan said. “For the 17-year-old kid with his first job, saying, ‘Mom, I built this,’ that got Deeann and I a little choked up.”
‘Iconic’ Port Orchard
The store’s owner pointed out a mural on an interior wall that was custom-painted to depict Port Orchard’s unique iconic nature. Since the couple was new to the area, they asked around for suggestions of an appropriate visual to use for the mural. Not surprisingly, people suggested a scene of a ferry boat on Sinclair Inlet with mountains in the background.
“When we asked the staff what they thought of the mural, they said, ‘You guys nailed it. That’s Port Orchard.’”
So far, customer feedback has been quite positive.
Port Orchard resident Steve Hohnstein said, “Everybody in there is awesome. When I had a question, I was taken directly to where I needed to be. So on the first day, people knew exactly where everything is.”
Bovan said his 32-employee team has proven its worth — immediately.
“Customers have been extremely happy. I don’t know what other words to say. It’s a two-part thing: people are thankful to have us, and Deeann and I are even more thankful they’re supporting us.”
— Grocery Outlet Bargain Market is next to Goodwill in the Towne Square Mall at 1730 SE Mile Hill Drive in Port Orchard.