Industrial aspect

Supermarkets made the switch from town centres to out-of-town sites years ago and a number of traditional butchers are now doing the same. The latest to make the move is Somerset butcher Malcolm Pyne, who has just undertaken an ambitious revamp of his business at a cost of some £2m.

Until last autumn, Pyne was one of two village butchers in tiny North Petherton (population just over 5,000) near Bridgwater, trading as P&B Pyne from a small, terraced, brick-fronted shop with just 700ft2 of space. Today he is trading in 9,500ft2 of space, an increase of 1,257% on his old premises, in what is a ‘destination shop’ for the county of Somerset (population just over 900,000). A new shop name — Pyne’s of Somerset — reflects the change in status.

His new purpose-built shop is half a mile out of the village at the entry road to a modern, recently-built regional Rural Business Centre and livestock market. Crucially, it is a stone’s throw from junction 24 of the M5 motorway. 

Acquiring the site was key to Malcolm and Julie Pyne’s ambitions for the future of their business and their family. “It’s a huge project for a terraced shop butcher, but if we hadn’t bitten the bullet, we’d have regretted it for the rest 
of our lives,” said Malcolm at the beginning of the project.

The new shop could not be more different from the previous one or from the traditional concept of a butcher’s shop, reflecting Pyne’s personality in his own words: “If everyone went right, I would go left.” 

Daring to be different, the spacious new-build is a stone-based and corrugated metal-topped construction that, from the outside at least, has an industrial feel about it, and for good reason; a traditionally stone or brick-built building would have cost £100,000 more to construct and would have over-capitalised the premises, Malcolm says. Predominantly black with silver signage, it also neatly complements the nearby blue and grey-coloured business centre. 

Compared to the old shop, where there was barely room to swing a meat cleaver, the new shop inside is space personified —  spread over two floors. Instead of rubbing shoulders with his wife and business partner Julie, Malcolm is more likely to have to go look for her.

While the outside may be industrial in concept, the inside is modern, well-lit and spacious, but also keeps to the traditional with a generous array of black and while tiling that provides a stunning focal point in the centre of the back wall. Splashes of burgundy around the shop, the signature colour of Somerset County Cricket Club, are promised soon.

‘Fresh’ concept

With space to play with, Malcolm has set out to create a shop with a difference. Although it now incorporates a wide range of products, he is adamant that, at its heart, it is still a butcher’s shop and neither an upmarket farm shop nor a small supermarket. The concept behind the offering to customers is to provide everything ‘fresh for the home’ — fresh meat, fresh local produce, fresh fish, even fresh flowers. 

‘L’-shaped in layout, the customer’s first view on entry are 12.5 metres of display counters that arc around the ‘L’ itself. XL Refrigeration manufactured and supplied all the serve-over counters for the fresh and cooked meats, deli and cheese, a fish display, multi-decks and rotundas for pre-packs, and heated counters for pies and hot sandwiches. The company also made a matching separate cash till area. All the counters are made from stainless steel, with a laminate front and 6mm thick stainless steel, polished kick plates. All work surfaces are 20mm granite. 

The remainder of the shop space, taking up perhaps a third of the total sales area, is given over to locally produced produce and gift items. A counter along one wall also stocks a range of local ciders, stored in traditional wooden vats, and other locally produced drinks. The fish and flower offerings are franchises, with Malcolm owning the hardware being used.

A large glass window built into the wall behind the run of display counters allows customers to see through to a manufacturing area. Running the length of the back wall behind the sales area are preparation areas for cooked and raw meats, a kitchen, a bone-in section and order processing area, a freezer, carcase fridge, shop fridge and dry store. At right angles to it, running along a side wall are an office, staff restroom and toilets, and customers’ toilets, which incorporate baby-changing facilities — an important element for what is a destination shop for visitors from across the county. 

Malcolm insists that all items on sale must “tell a story”, but must also be commercially viable. Nevertheless 75% of sales are fresh meat. The upstairs floor has yet to be used.

Outside and to the front of the building, alongside the spacious glass double-doored entrance lobby, is a canopied take-away servery that looks into the kitchens. Although this means some customers will buy from there, without entering the shop itself, thus missing out on potential impulse sales, it is an asset for the many lorry drivers and farmers visiting the next-door rural centre and livestock market, who can simply park their lorries and vans virtually at the entrance. 

Malcolm says one of the biggest advantages of the new site is ease of access off the A38 and parking literally outside the shop for 30 cars. He has also reached agreement with the nearby local cricket club for use of its car park for overflow parking — an aspect that proved very useful over the busy Christmas period.

Even more useful than he dreamed of was the introduction into the shop of a separate cash till point that has made life easier for all the butchers. Since opening shortly before the Christmas period, trade has increased by six-fold on his former business. The number of staff has been doubled to 25.

Design-and-build package

He advises any butcher considering a shop redevelopment or new-build to go for a design-and-build package with a builder or shopfitter rather than the more traditional specified tender route. Initially, he went down the tender route, with a project involving several specialists including three architects, mechanical and electrical engineers, quantity surveyor, and health and safety consultant.

Combined with trying to sort out planning and highways permissions, it got so expensive that, eventually, he turned to a local Bridgwater builder, Harris and Harris. Freelance project manager Chris Chiswell oversaw the build from concept to completion and arranged for the supply of most of the fittings. Harris and Harris did the groundwork construction and built the basic shell using a split-faced stone effect for the shop front and a coated corrugated aluminium cladding for the rest of the building. He also used local suppliers for the refrigeration, electrics and plumbing. 

Malcolm insists that, from concept to build to opening, and even with hindsight, he has had no need to make any fundamental changes to the original plan beyond a re-evaluation of the flower offering. Plans going forward include a customer relaxation area, with the introduction of theatre-style seats, perhaps incorporating a recipe research section. 

The result has been a build that came in on budget and on time. An outlay of some £2m has been made and the build took eight months. Although virtually all the cost risks of such an ambitious project were covered by Malcolm’s business trading status and assets, he still found it a difficult and a lengthy process to obtain funding through British banks, so he turned to Swedish bank Handelsbanken.

“Traditional banks are very, very corporate 
and cautious these days,” said Malcolm before the new-build began. “Handelsbanken are small, bespoke. I rate their service 100%. My dealings with them have been faultless. It’s simple banking.”

For butchers considering moving their business to a new site, the old saying about the importance of ‘location, location, location’ rings true. Several factors about the site that Malcolm chose appealed to him: it was very close to a motorway junction, at the entrance to a busy Rural Business Centre and livestock market, and had space for plenty of parking. It was right alongside the major A38.

The site has plenty of potential for future customers too. Opposite the shop is a plot of land designated by a well-known local company as a large country store, selling a range of clothing and equipment for farmers and rural types. Malcolm has even planned for it by having a footpath built from what is still a field to the entrance of his shop. 

Furthermore, land on the other side of the A38 has been earmarked for accommodation for thousands of EDF construction workers, should the go-ahead be given to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point on the Somerset coast. So, with all this potential in the offing, the company’s future is looking bright.

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