German discounter Lidl starts hiring for U.S. store launch

By By Emma ThomassonFeaturesReuters

German discounter Lidl, which has expanded rapidly in Europe to become one of the continent's biggest retailers, has started a recruitment drive in the United States ahead of its expected launch in the country in 2017 or 2018.

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Lidl held a hiring event for store managers in North Carolina on Monday and is inviting potential store supervisors to another event in Fairfax, Virginia on Wednesday.

"We have landed in America and we are searching for talented, friendly and dynamic people to grow with us," Lidl said on its careers website. "We are bringing a brand new fresh shopping experience to our American shoppers."

Lidl, which runs more than 10,000 stores in 27 countries in Europe, is expected to open its first 120-150 stores on the East Coast as early as the end of 2017, potentially increasing pressure on mainstream retailers like Kroger and Wegmans.

German discounter rival Aldi, which opened its first U.S. store in 1976 and now runs 1,600, is also growing fast in the country, both under the Aldi banner and Trader Joe's. Planet Retail forecasts Aldi will add another $5 billion of sales by 2020 to the $10 billion it recorded in 2015.

Holding a passport is among the requirements in Lidl's job descriptions posted for store managers as successful candidates will be expected to travel to Europe as part of a six-month training program.

"It's probably best to think about market impact on a localized level, as it will take many years for it to build any national scale," said David Gordon of consultancy Planet Retail.

Lidl is currently advertising 75 vacancies in the United States on its website, with most of the positions at its Arlington, Virginia headquarters, including experts in real estate and human resources, plus one German language teacher.

It is looking for properties in East Coast states between Pennsylvania and Georgia, with 80 sites under consideration or construction already, according to Planet Retail.

Lidl was not immediately available to comment.

Lidl could exceed $2 billion in sales by the end of its second full year of operations and almost $9 billion by 2023, consultants Kantar Retail forecast. It expects Lidl to have over 400 stores up and down the East Coast within a few years.

Lidl and Aldi have become giants by keeping prices low with a strategy of selling mostly own-brand goods in no-frills stores with minimal staff.

However, both chains have struggled recently in their home market as German shoppers have shifted to mainstream supermarkets, prompting the discounters to offer more brands and invest in sprucing up their stores, while also expanding abroad.

Lidl saw its sales rise 9.5 percent to 64.6 billion euros ($68.7 billion) in the fiscal year to the end of February. The Schwarz group that owns Lidl and the Kaufland hypermarket chain plans to invest 6.5 billion euros in the current fiscal year.

Based in Neckarsulm in southern Germany, Lidl is owned by Germany's richest man, Dieter Schwarz, son of the company's founder Josef Schwarz.

($1 = 0.9407 euros)

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson, editing by David Evans)