Kay and Sunjit, Nisa Tongham – Investing in their team

Happy staff equals happy customers. Isn’t that the old business mantra? Even if some deem it as a bit of a cliché, Kay and Sunjit Desai certainly believe in it – and it’s paying off.

The facts
  • Nisa Local Tongham, Tongham, Surrey
  • Hours: 7am-9pm Monday-Sunday
  • Trading since: July 2007
  • Size: 3,000sq ft
  • Staff: 13 part-time
  • Style: A newly-refurbished premium store under the Nisa Local fascia. It’s located on Tongham high street and caters for two other nearby villages.

By putting their 13 staff at the heart of their business, the couple have received a decade of loyalty in return and increased weekly turnover from £12,000 to £40,000.

“We wanted to be employers, not employees. We wanted that responsibility to help give others an opportunity,” says Kay.

The Desais train their staff using Government and Nisa Local online services. All aspects of convenience retail is scrupulously studied from food safety to customer aggression. From the moment a new employee joins the team, the couple ensure they receive a retail education as well as responsibility.

“You must invest in your team; you must take the time to help them,” Sunjit explains.

But the retailers have taken it a step further by employing family members living abroad, on a short-term summer contract, to learn from the high standards in competitive British retail and apply it to their home countries.

“My nephew from Spain is with us for the summer while he is studying,” Kay says. “He wanted to have the confidence to work in a customer-focused professional environment and we’ve aimed to give him that. But we haven’t made it easy for him.”

Despite being located in an affluent Surrey village and benefiting from their dramatic store refit hiking up their weekly turnover, they’re worried about the looming mandatory living wage and job cuts. The couple put on a brave face as they fret over the near-impossible decision forced upon them by iron-fisted politicians.

“Of course it’s good for staff and we wholeheartedly support it, but they just haven’t thought about how small businesses can manage,” Sunjit argues. “We run 25% of our products on promotion, so our margin is on the bottom line for most stock. Tell me, where can we make the extra stretch from?”

Although the Desais are worried about their team’s future, they understand that they need to focus on the present and make the most of the opportunities available now. They work closely with suppliers to achieve great merchandising and stock price-marked packs to build customer trust.

They aren’t afraid to put their faith in customers and have tried to tailor their store to suit their tastes. They’ve introduced local supplier Hogs Back Ales, as well as premium wines, gluten-free products and diabetic confectionery.

The couple use Nisa’s Made A Difference Locally (MADL) charity scheme to try to help others – most recently donating £500 to the nearby cricket club. But now they’re deciding how to go beyond MADL and bring charity donations directly into store by donating food to the homeless.

“Kay’s already a local councillor and we want to  donate as much as we can to the community,” Sunjit says. “I take inspiration from other stores about the best charitable methods to ensure it’s the most effective and to give it to the people who really need it.”


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