Profile: Jessica Nandhra, Loco Carlos

When Jessica and Sarah Nandhra’s father passed away four and a half years ago, they decided to take over the store to continue his 32-year retail legacy. 

The facts:
  • Location: Farnley, Leeds
  • Staff: Eight part-time
  • Hours: 7am-9pm, Mon-Sun
  • Size: 1,000sq ft.
  • Trading since: June 2012
  • Style: A member of Nisa for three years, the store is on a busy road and in the centre of four council housing estates. On the top of a steep hill, within a 10-minute walk there is a Sainsbury’s and a parade of other independent retailers.

Three years ago, the sisters spent £80,000 on a store renovation and joined Nisa. “It was a big decision to join a symbol group. It took a year and a half to make because the store was so closely identified with our father and we were afraid to lose it,” Jessica says.

But their father’s memory remains with the store, as they rebranded using his name, Carlos, to create Loco Carlos. Upon his death, they sold one of his stores and decided to focus on the larger, more profitable one, and use knowledge gained outside of convenience to improve it.

Sarah works part-time in the store, while continuing her employment law career, whereas Jessica gave up her retail management job at the Royal Bank of Scotland to work in the shop full-time. To keep their store at a high standard they arrange mystery shops, audit checks and thorough staff training – an echo from their previous careers.

The sisters grew up in the shop and insist that their good customer service is instinctive, having picked up their parents’ habits.

Top tips
  • Remind your customers about your offers: Each time a customer is at the till, Jessica reminds them if the item they are buying is on offer.
  • Take advice: The store used a Red Bull planogram for six months, and as a result their energy drink sales increased. They are waiting for a sales analysis that they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
  • Stay loyal to what works: Nisa they wanted to remove the sweet section. “We’ve had it for 32 years – we’re known in the area for it,” Jessica said. She stuck to what she knew, and it’s still hugely popular.

“My parents always gave a 5p sweet to the kids that come in,” says Jessica. “It’s a nice gesture but it’s helpful to us, because the children drag the parents in and they want to buy more to say thank you.”

From a young age the women learnt the different aspects of running a shop, from promotions to tobacco, but they aren’t complacent about the ongoing challenges the industry faces.

“It’s tough being purely independent. We may have learnt about all areas of retail but it’s different when you’re on your own. That’s why we joined Nisa, for the security we get in having someone to turn to,” says Jessica.

Reminding customers of the strong promotions independent stores can offer is a key strategy within Loco Carlos. “Cigarettes bring customers in, and if we didn’t stock them, they wouldn’t come,” she says.

“Promotions, such as our current one on beer, are cheaper than Asda. It took a while for customers to realise, but it’s about educating them and pointing it out.”

The sisters also make the most of their opportunity to help the community, by using Nisa’s Make a Difference Locally fund, sponsoring the local football team and raising more than £4,000 for St Gemma’s – a hospice for the terminally sick.

Jessica and Sarah are not only fighting competition from the supermarkets by using Nisa’s promotions, but have also fought and won a five-year battle to stop Tesco building a 24-hour store in the local area.

“It took a long time; I lobbied our council and spoke in front of hundreds of people who just hadn’t thought about the damage it would do to small businesses in the area,” she says.

“We’re in a democracy, and small businesses have to use their voices.”

From fighting retail giants to coping with industry shifts, it seems the next year is going to be a quieter one for the pair.

“We’ve just got one more year left to pay off our loan, so we’re going to focus on our personal lives for a little bit – I have a wedding to plan,” adds Jessica.

As with most independent retailers, their business is never far from their thoughts.

“They say that you’re only as good as your last week, so I know we’ll find another way we have to improve and keep sales strong.”


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