Following a family tradition

FOURTH GENERATION family butcher Antony Coates knows his customers well and what keeps them coming back to his shop.

As for what attracts them in large numbers in the ?rst place to the tiny village of Borrowash, near Derby, he says he must thank the large supermarket opposite which has resulted in a footfall suf?cient enough to keep himself busy as well as his manager Nigel Elsey and his staff Aidan Gail and Steve Jubb.

"People come into the shop and are impressed by the display cabinets and the posters drawing attention to special offers, past competition successes and reminders of diary dates which can be anything from Shrove Tuesday (don't forget your extra eggs), to the start of the barbecue season. I do a little press advertising but, because I believe in the value of good posters inside and outside the shop, I have just bought a top-of-the-range printing machine to give the notices a professional ?nish."

Life in the trade began for Antony when, as a child, he gave his father Peter a hand in his Staffordshire shop, where Peter, at 65, still works today. "He would like to retire but we are too busy to let him go," says Antony with a smile. At 17, he joined his father in the business. "I never wanted to do anything else", he says.

That shop, now under the management of Adrian Beardsmore, was opened by Antony's great grandfather 106 years ago. "Dad had seven uncles in the trade and I am pleased to be the fourth generation, " he says. The shop in Borrowash, some 19 miles from Alrewas, became vacant 14 years ago following the retirement of another of Antony's relatives, a second cousin. Two years later, with trade increasing, Nigel joined him as manager. Two full-time assistants were hired soon afterwards. The premises were stripped out, re-wired and plastic wall cladded. New equipment was brought in, notably refrigerated display cabinets, and electronic scales which link up with the computer used for everything, from stock control to staff salaries.

"Our accountant takes care of much of the of?ce work, leaving us free to concentrate on the all important butchery side," says Antony. Eight years ago the two businesses merged. Today, Antony spends alternate Tuesday's at Bridgnorth cattle market, two days in the of?ce, and a day at Alrewas, leaving Fridays and Saturdays to work at Borrowash. "By going to market I have the pick of 200 beasts from which I select eight for the two shops. I also buy upwards of 40 sheep."

He uses local farmers. For example, his sole pig supplier is Robert Mercer of Packington near Lich?eld, whose free-range stock has been responsible for much of Antony's success. It was Robert who volunteered to attend the Staffordshire Sizzle tasty sausage competition on Antony's behalf and no one was more surprised than Antony when he received a call from Robert telling him he had won.

"We then went on to enter the national competition in Birmingham and won third prize." Borrowash village is four miles from Derby. It is joined by the village of Ockbrook to the north. Historically the villages have been home to farming communities but, over the years, have become a single built up area with a population of about 8,000. The catchment area includes the villages of Spondon, Alvaston, Draycott and Breaston, with people travelling from further a? eld to take advantage of the good quality meats offered by Antony.

"Many of our customers want their meat specially prepared. They tell us what they want and we cut everything fresh. In fact, most of our display is cut fresh every day. We cure and slice our own bacon and make our own sausages. Because of the location there is very little lunchtime trade and we sell very little vacuum packed meat".

He says: "The superstores market and package their goods very professionally. Where we score is by giving information verbally and offering a personal service which they ?nd dif?cult to match." As for the future of the trade, Antony is optimistic enough to be on the look out for another shop despite the burden of legislation which has prompted many good butchers to leave the trade.

"When the time comes for my two children, Austin and Fenella to look for a career, I want them to have the option of becoming a ?fth generation of our family to come in with me."

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