From family to full Dyenasty

From horse and cart to refrigerated vans, the Dyes' business has been developing over four generations, discovers Ed Bedington

When it comes to innovation, forward thinking and flexibility, the Dye family is hard to beat. From humble beginnings almost 100 years ago, four generations of butchers have taken the business onwards and upwards and now, in a market that is more challenging than ever, the family continues to grow and develop.

A long way from his grandfather's horse and cart at the turn of the 20th century, William Dye now runs his business, Scotts Fine Foods, from a shop in Carshalton, Surrey, along with his son Alan, daughter Sarah, and wife Grace. "We're a real family operation," says Alan.

family affair

Since the shop was established about 30 years ago, the family has continued to evolve its business, most recently bolting on a successful deli counter and thriving catering operation.

"My dad runs the meat side, I run the catering side and this year we brought in my sister and she runs the deli operation," says Alan. "All three parts of the business are effectively kept separate and it works really well."

While all three operations are managed independently, the three support each other. For instance the chefs in Alan's catering business provide the deli counter with cooked meats, pies and quiches. "We don't buy in any cooked meats, it's all cooked on the premises ourselves," he says.

The entire business is firmly aimed at the quality end of the market and that seems to have been the key to its survival.

"When the meat trade was taking some really big knocks, we decided to stay with the quality," Alan says. "Because of that, we only stock Scotch beef." And it is not just beef either, the shop is also gradually switching to 100% free-range pork.

Alan joined the business full-time around 14 years ago, although he has worked in the shop ever since he was old enough, he says. His arrival opened up new catering opportunities. "I went to Smithfield meat college and also did a creative butchery course."

But while he was studying, he began to realise that simply being a butcher might not be enough anymore and enrolled on a catering course at Carshalton college. His news skills quickly paid off and the company's catering operation is now significant, dealing with a wide range of functions from small private dinner parties all the way up to big corporate events.

Hog roast heaven

While a large proportion of its trade is done in the surrounding area, with standing contracts to service venues exclusively, including Manor House in Old Morden, Alan says he is prepared to go further afield - he has catered for a party in Cornwall and has been asked to provide services for a party in France.

However, he does draw the line somewhere: "We don't go up to London, it's too much aggro. It's actually easier to go to Cornwall than it is to send people up to London."

Investment in equipment has been key to the catering business - from refrigerated vans and lorries to outdoor cooking facilities. "The best thing we ever bought was a hog roast. We've invested significantly in equipment to ensure we're able to offer the best possible service."

And that investment has paid off, with the business growing simply by word of mouth from impressed customers.

Investment has not been limited to the catering operation. "This year alone, we've spent £80,000 on the shop," says Alan, "putting in a new shop front and all new refrigerated counters. Next year we'll be refitting the kitchen, which will see us invest in four new big ovens."

The shop has six butchers on the staff and around the same number of staff manning the deli counter. The team is completed by four chefs and an army of casual waiting staff which Alan recruits when needed.

Sausages have become something of a speciality for the business, with more than 50 different types available for customers to order.

And, unusually, it is not just the meat range that offers such wide choice. "We can do around 50 different types of home-made salad on the catering side," says Alan. "In fact, we get through more fruit and veg than the greengrocer next door."

Alan also uses the skills he learnt during his creative butchery course at Smithfield to create fruit carvings for table displays: "We really go to town, dressing all the tables up."

Overall, despite the ever-present competition from the big retailers, the business continues to thrive, and with the fifth generation - Alan's niece Nathalie - already beginning to work in the business, the future is looking particularly bright for the Dyes. n

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