In a bleak, windy car park near a council estate in St Helens, Paul Niklas stands out like a sore thumb. Dressed in a pin-striped suit, his appearance is in sharp contrast to the 'more relaxed' attire of the majority of customers at the newly opened FreshXpress store. As I speak to customers about the new store I spot him studying the recently unveiled fascia that will adorn his top 24 sites. I grab the opportunity to ask the man who has steered a path, from the dying weeks of Kwik Save to the birth of FreshXpress, about his plans. Niklas's immediate goal for his new empire is to banish any trace of Kwik Save. He has earmarked £1m for store makeovers within the next five weeks, starting with replacing signage and introducing a lurid lime green colour scheme. Replacement trolleys and shopping baskets (the only sign of its previous owner at the St Helens Marshalls Cross store) are on order, the staff have new white uniforms, and window graphics are being installed. Niklas dismisses the suggestion that the changes are needed because suppliers may be apprehensive about signing up to the new regime because of its turbulent past. "We are starting a new business with a new philosophy. The Kwik Save legacy doesn't matter, it's what we do moving forward that counts." Marshalls Cross is the blueprint for FreshXpress. Along with fully stocked shelves, the most noticeable departure from its Kwik Save days is a focus on fresh produce, with signs boasting of its 'fresh offers, great value' and 'fresh groceries, locally'. This is the key to Niklas's vision. Bagged fruit and vegetables have been replaced by loose produce, the deli counter has been reopened, and greater emphasis has been put on the fresh meat section. "A focus on fresh produce is our mantra," says Niklas. "All 24 stores will be able to get fruit and veg in daily, and meat a few times a week." He believes the philosophy can be repeated at each store. "The thinking had been that if you were selling to a C-D demographic you couldn't promote fresh produce. We're the opposite of that. The scale of our fresh offer will differ depending on store size, but fresh will be the first thing you see when you walk through the door." Educating staff about the new strategy will be a challenge, admits Niklas, but he says the team remains remarkably committed considering what they have been through in recent months. "The staff have been very loyal, and have had to put up with a lot," he says. "But the fact we've removed them from the Kwik Save operation means we're halfway there. Now it's about getting them involved, running their own stores and understanding the implications of our fresh offer and why issues such as wastage are so important." Store manager Tony Meikle certainly seems motivated. "We have been given autonomy to give our customers what they want," he says. "We have started making sandwiches to order at the deli, and are giving customers a wider choice. We've doubled our lines from 1,800 to 3,580 and we aren't only stocking cheap items. We have also been putting the feelers out to increase our local sourcing, another issue customers have been impressed with." Niklas will take on new staff to cope with the changes, recognising that new expertise is needed to advise on displays and sourcing local produce. A fruit and veg manager has been taken on at Marshalls Cross, and has been making daily trips to Liverpool Wholesale Fruit Market. He has already revamped his section by moving shelves around, introducing wider varieties and raising quality levels. "We are going to local markets and picking our produce before it is delivered, which is a big change," says Niklas. But the effort appears to be worth it. The Marshalls Cross store is already matching sales levels it achieved 18 months ago. "From zero to that in a week is impressive," says a delighted Niklas. This shows the level of desire for a local grocery store, says Niklas, as many shoppers are unwilling to travel to the major multiples. There is a Morrisons a mile from the Marshalls Cross store, but a greater rival, says Niklas, is the nearby McColl's c-store, which seized the opportunity to sell fresh foods when Kwik Save closed. Niklas refuses to name a direct competitor to the chain, saying offers will be decided locally. "We have no philosophy for pricing against anyone else. We are a smaller, more manageable business and can tailor our competitiveness accordingly. We could have different prices in different areas. Our customers will tell us if we have got the prices right, and so far they have been pleased."customers' views It's much cleaner than before and the products look better, particularly the veg. It looks fresh. They've got a range of bread again, including Warburtons, which was missing before. Geoff Molyneux I had stopped coming because it had gone so downhill. Most people had been going to Morrisons but I will use it a lot now. It has a huge catchment area, including a big council estate, with lots of residential properties, which need a store like this. Luke Edwards I come here daily because I like fresh fruit. There's more choice now. It used to be one set of grapes or pears, but now there are melons, blueberries and different varieties of potatoes. Sheila McAllister The majority of the prices are good, but I am a bit disappointed by some of the offers: Cornettos are a pound more for a box of six than at Morrisons. But at least there's no need to travel further to another store. John Gibbons It will take a while to get fully up to speed, but this is a definite improvement. I'm pleased about the deli, and it's good to have loose veg. Jean Walters