Marks Tey: Marc Linch aims to put the customer first at The Food Company
Entrepreneur Marc Linch is a director of four successful Essex businesses and is a firm believer that customer service is king. He tells Sheline Clarke about his approach to developing enterprises that are both successful and sustainable.
Marc Linch started his career in property and worked in Hong Kong for a commercial estate agent before coming back to Essex to help his father, Leslie Linch, in a new venture.
Leslie already had a successful business Dalebrook, which provides display units and products for the food industry, and had a dream to establish a new kind of food shop to sell top quality produce.
In 2000 they bought the Prince of Wales pub at Marks Tey, knocked it down, and started work on The Food Company, a pioneering retail project that bought a butcher, greengrocer, fishmonger and other top quality food stuffs under one roof.
Fast forward 14 years and The Food Company is a runaway success and now includes a lively café and a furniture and gift shop upstairs.
“It took on a life of its own,” said Marc of the Food Company. “The initial concept was always based on high quality and that remained true as different areas of the business developed, like the café and the giftware, and I was keen on taking the concept and opening more of them, but that became problematic, particularly in finding the right site. Land for out-of-town shopping areas with parking tend to get gobbled up by the supermarkets who can pay much more than an independent so whilst that plan didn’t come to fruition, I still wanted to move forward and found myself branching off in other ways.”
Next door to The Food Company is a precision tool making company, M Greene Ltd, which was at a crossroads in its lifecycle when Marc had a conversation with its then owner who revealed his plans to retire.
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“I knew there was a really good manager there in David Lawrence and while I don’t know anything about engineering I do know about business and so I started to think that maybe we could piece something together and between the two of us we bought out the owner. I thought it would be interesting and another string to my bow.”
A year later and yet another opportunity presented itself to Marc who found himself looking at John Austin, a specialist VW and Audi service garage, which is also a near neighbour of The Food Company at Marks Tey.
“John Austin and M Greene both had something I believe in and that’s personal service,” said Marc. “The businesses are all very different but the ethos is the same. They are independent, not part of a chain or a faceless organisation that is purely about making money. They are about providing a service and having that personal relationship with customers. That’s what M Greene is about and it’s the same with the garage, customers get good honest service at a fair price and we have added some new services for customers like winter checks and a new MOT bay, along with issuing customers with vouchers for The Food Company café while they wait for their cars to be finished. It’s about improving the service and taking the business forward.”
With three successful businesses to his name, Marc spotted another opportunity and embarked on a new venture in the solar pv industry. The business he set up accrued sales of £10m within 18 months but, like many others, fell victim to the government’s policy change regarding tariffs and Marc decided it was time to look elsewhere for his next business.
“I soon realised that was not for me,” he said.
This time he has started from scratch and opened a small café and deli in Buckhurst Hill with his wife Jane.
The Green Owl Café is fiercely independent and offers home cooked food including paninis, omelettes, jackets, homemade fish fingers sandwiches and gourmet burgers, with all the trimmings.
“It is the antithesis of the big coffee chains,” said Marc. “We set this up because we believe in the independent and I always have done and maybe my thinking comes from my Dad’s influence. He is so passionate about this and so we have taken that ethos and created something on a small scale in the right location.”
Marc and Jane’s café has been going since August and is proving ideal for the area, close to the Central Line, in a high street and rubbing shoulders with a good number of other independent shops and businesses. The couple are also offering outside catering and parties and are considering opening in the evening as well.
“The café has been a really rewarding, enjoyable journey. We see people come in and they enjoy their coffee and ordering food from a menu you have helped put together and it’s a nice feeling.
“Every business has to make money or it won’t continue but it is not all about the money. I look at things all the time and make sure the margins are correct, you have to or you won’t survive but my main driving factor is not that it is the quality of the food and the service.
“You don’t have to buy cheap produce to make a profit and I am not the only person who thinks that. There are lots of examples of good quality independents and it is great to see that people appreciate that. It’s about integrity and it would be sad if that independent spirit went and everything was run by accountants purely interested in share prices.”
Marc knew from an early age that he wanted to be in business and today plays a key role in each of his enterprises and makes sure his skilled staff have the right tools and the right attitude to do their jobs properly, gain satisfaction from what they do and in turn create an environment in which each business can flourish.
“It’s a balancing act in guiding the business while allowing the staff to get on with it. “With the café we have built a solid platform and put our ethos behind it and everyone is really aware of how important the quality is to us and that every cup of coffee has to be as good as the last. It’s impossible to get it right all the time and then its about how you deal with that and the customer can see that you do care and that it does matter and it shows that we are remaining true to our principles.”
For the immediate future, Marc says there is work to be done in all his businesses to continue their development and growth.
“It’s about enjoying what you do every day and not living for the future but living for today and making sure you get the most from every day because you don’t know what is around the corner. Everyone has grand plans for the future but for me the future is now, today and tomorrow and making sure I try and appreciate each day. That’s what is important.”