Nisa Marsh Farm has evolved alongside its community
Barry Patel is adapting his Luton stores to meet a diversifying community while keeping a local shop feel, writes Daryl Worthington
Nisa Local Marsh Farm
Unit 6-7 Marsh Farm Shopping Centre, Luton, LU3 3FH
The Marsh Farm area of Luton has changed drastically in the past 30 years, and these shifts have put pressure on local businesses to adapt to a new, more diverse demographic. Barry Patel, who owns two Nisas in the area – Nisa Marsh Farm and Nisa Axe Close – has seen first-hand how the area is evolving.
“I’m on the board of the regeneration committee,” he explains. “We applied for and won £42m in funding from the local government. We used it to buy the site of an old derelict factory, and turned it into a play park for kids. We also built offices there, which we let out, with the income from those offices being reinvested into the estate.”
It’s no surprise, then, that serving a changing community played a big role in shaping Nisa Local Marsh Farm’s refit in 2018. Changes included adding a post office, a new butchery section, and expanding the store’s food to go and fresh and chilled sections.
“I think people are changing,” says Barry. “They want something on the go. They don’t have a proper breakfast, so they come here and they want tea or coffee, and something to eat with it.
“It’s helped us become a destination for food-to-go shoppers. Customers will come in thinking, ‘What can I have to eat?’ They can just look down the first aisle and that question is answered for them.”
Barry believes that community involvement begins with customer service, and he strives to keep a local feel at Nisa Local Marsh Farm, despite it being a 4,000sq ft store.
“I encourage staff to talk to the customers, and to get feedback from them – it builds a nice atmosphere,” he explains. “I want them to be asking customers, ‘Can I help you with anything else?’ before customers leave, or apologising if they’ve had to wait more than 30 or 40 seconds in the queue.”
The shop is in a diverse area, and it is also changing rapidly.
“I’ve been on this estate for 30 years. There’s been a lot of changes in that time,” explains Barry. “It used to be mostly council houses, but it’s much more diverse now,” this inevitably had a big impact when it came to planning out Nisa Marsh Farm’s refit, which included adding a new food-to-go section and a bigger emphasis on fresh.
“When we designed the store, we looked at the local community and what they wanted,” he continues. “A post office was a criteria, so we put one in – we’re offering bill payments and the full range of services.”
Barry notes that although it’s a residential area, there’s also a mix of offices and schools nearby. He’s found sticking to a simple formula has paid off and allowed him to meet the needs of the local area.
“In a modern convenience store you need a hot food concept, you need coffee, slush drinks in the summer, and a point of difference in what you’re selling compared to other stores,” he adds.
“We have competition everywhere,” says Barry. “But I worry about what I’m doing, not what someone else is doing. We want to consistently offer customers the products they want.”
Offering strong customer service is a priority, and Barry’s found that focusing on Google ratings is a great way to monitor and develop this.
“I encourage customers to give feedback on Google ratings,” he explains. “If you go to a restaurant, the first thing you read is the ratings – they affect people’s decisions. I also use them to give feedback to my staff on how we’re performing on customer service.
“If you get a bad comment, it’s important that you respond and try to iron the problem out. For instance, we had a customer recently who complained about a queue for the post office, so I contacted them, apologised and explained what had happened.”
The store offers a range of products from around the globe.
“We’ve tried to make a point of difference. We’ve kept the basic English groceries, but we’ve also introduced Polish and Asian products. We probably do 50 to 60 different types of spices, for instance,” says Barry.
This is driven by the fact that Leagrave is a diverse area, with substantial Polish, West Indian and Asian populations. The global mix of products can be seen spread around the store in different aisles.
“Customers can go to a supermarket and get the basics like cornflakes. They can come here and still get that, and something a bit more unusual as well. It’s an all-in-one store.”
Nisa Local Marsh Farm’s in-store halal butchery is one of its most successful sections.
“We’re doing about £6,000 a week just on meat,” Barry reveals. “Not only that, but my sale of herbs and spices has gone up as a knock-on effect of the butchers. In summer, our barbecue sales go up as well.
“We have people coming from all over Luton to use our butchery counter. That’s because the nearest butchers to us is about three miles away, so it is a point of difference.”
Food to go has been another big success for the store. “We’re selling about 50 hot sausage rolls a day now,” says Barry. “We’ve got a dedicated food-to-go section as soon as customers walk in – people are eating more on the move and we want them to know straight away we’re the location to meet that need.”
Barry’s strong community connection starts with his staff retention and development.
“My store manager has been with me for more than 29 years, and a lot of my staff have been with me for more than 20 years,” he reveals. “Most of them live within walking distance of the shop. This means our customers all know them, and our staff know the community.”
Barry takes strong steps to make sure his store connects to local causes.
“We have ‘making a difference locally’ boxes in our store, and we circulate that money back to our local charities, along with donations from the store itself,” he explains.
“Our customers know that their donations are going to a cause in their community, and that makes a difference to them. As a business, we also sponsor the local fireworks display, four football teams and donate to local charities for the elderly.”
Barry strives to make sure his staff feel connected to his business. “We hold regular meetings and I try to drive home to them that this is our business, not just my business,” he says.
Barry says giving staff a sense of pride is pivotal to boosting morale and retaining staff: “You need to let them know when they’re doing something well, and give them positive encouragement where you can.”
“We regularly have fun days out and events for our team,” says Barry. “We have Christmas parties, midsummer barbecues and events like that to keep morale high.”
“Me and my store manager host regular one-to-one meetings with each of the store staff,” explains Barry. “It lets them know that they’ll have an opportunity to voice any concerns or problems they’re having with the job.”
“Each of my staff has responsibility for a certain section of the shop,” explains Barry. “It gives them an extra sense of ownership.”
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