the wow factor
Darts Farm Shopping Village in Devon Is more like a farm department store than a farm shop. Nicci Piggott takes a look
Standing resplendent in the central area of the shopping complex, Gerald David's butchery department is a sight to behold and indeed forms the 'centre piece' of the Darts Farm Village. James Dart, son of Darts Farm founder Ronald, comments: "Obviously we are very proud of all our departments, but the butchery counter provides a real 'wow' factor for the store. And that is why, when we created this new store, we put these guys right in the heart of it."
In fact there is something rather theatrical about the whole butchery department with its eye-catching display of hanging carcases, pretty meat dishes and its larger than life characters. Barry Kelland is the area manager for Gerald David, which owns five butcher's shops in the Devon and Somerset areas. Barry helped create the display which was designed by Gerald and his three sons: Alistair, Philip and Simon. "Having five butcher's shops you soon learn about display and you can always improve on the last shop," comments Barry. In fact it is not just hard work that has gone into building the business to what it is today - £1m has been invested in the butchery department, of which Gerald David contributed 50% and the Dart family the rest.
Starting off some 20-years ago as a small 6ft cabinet, the butchery counter at Darts Farm - the third outlet for the Gerald David business, established in 1969 - has grown into a 400 sq ft shop, housing two 15ft display cabinets with a 6ft central purpose built block - designed so that the butcher never has to turn his back on the customer. The annual turnover is £1.5m.
The Gerald David butchery business is very much a family concern and it prides itself on its 'excellent reputation for producing the very finest locally farmed meats'. Barry has worked with the Davids for 10 years and in that time has seen 'tremendous change'. "We now have six full time butchers here at Topsham. And we also get help from Gerald's three sons, who I like to call 'the X factor' because they are all master butchers and slaughtermen. I can call upon them any time I want, and they help out with the displays."
As well as owning five butcher's shops the Davids also run one of the few surviving small abattoirs in England at Porlock, Somerset. Freedom Food accredited, the business is serious about animal welfare, with all Gerald David's meat sourced from local farms where they are 'naturally fed and allowed quality of life'. Barry comments: "All the animals come from within a radius of thirty five miles from the abattoir, which means they do not suffer >>
stress from travelling. We kill two-to-three days a week and all the meat is for our own shops only." The meat is fully traceable as Barry explains: "Because we know the farmers, we know how the animal is treated down to the food that it eats. It also means the farmers understand our needs too."
A strong relationship with suppliers is probably most apparent through the Davids' agreement with its turkey supplier John Broom, at Colyton Raleigh, near Axminster. "Because we were getting too busy at Christmas we installed a gutting plant at the farm," Barry explains. "They now dress the turkeys for us which saves us so much time." Bearing in mind that across the five Gerald David outlets 3,000 to 4,000 birds are sold, then it is easy to see how time consuming this procedure might be.
"As well as the butchers' shops we also have a wagon in which we tour the country and visit fairs to promote our goods," Barry continues. "From the beginning of May to the end of September this year we are going to 22 shows. We also have an incredibly successful mail order service and will deliver to anywhere in the UK."
You could say that Gerald David is lucky to have an outlet in a shopping complex that has such a strong pull, but it seems that the butchery counter has an attraction all of its own. "We have a lot of people coming down to see what we are doing," explains James Dart. "The farm shop started in one corner and then about 16/17 years ago the butchers moved in. Since then it has gone from strength-to-strength with people being attracted by the traditional butchery, and excellent quality meats. The guys here offer a level of expertise and traditional craft skills that you simply can't find anywhere else. The supermarkets certainly can't compete with that."
Barry adds that hanging the meat is also another point of difference that the department offers. "All our beef is hung for a minimum of three weeks and because of the way we operate we very rarely run out of anything."
Most of the money is made from over the counter sales and by offering discounts on larger joints the shop can shift a hefty amount of meat. "We have a wonderful sales patter," explains Barry. "For instance when a customer comes in looking for a 2lb joint of topside very rarely do they go away with a joint of topside that weighs less that 8-10lb. We do a discount price on the whole roll and because all our meat is fresh we will cut it to size for the customer to take home and freeze.
"Beef is our biggest seller followed by lamb and then pork. We also do free range poultry and game." Barry says that on a weekly basis the shop will get through 25-30 pigs, 100-140 lambs and 15-20 bodies of beef.
"We can only sell fresh meats here," Barry continues. "The delicatessen counter is owned by Darts although we supply them with cooked meats. We cook and prepare those at our Minehead shop, we supply hams and beef and also supply the farm restaurant with all its meat."
One of the many specialities the shop does is what Barry calls a 'Shepherds Roast'. "It's a whole shoulder of lamb that is de-boned, de-fatted and filled with various stuffings and formed into a cushion shape," explains Barry. "We also take loins of lamb which we bone and stuff with apricots and various stuffings and sell them as individual noisettes. We also do chumps of lamb where we take the bone out of the chump end and stuff with our home-made fillings.
On top of all this, having tried all the products, the butchers at Gerald Davids can not only recommend how to cook the product but provide an extra level of service by describing how it tastes.
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