Meat and two veg - it's all at the butchers

Pleased to Meet You - Meat to Please You!

The sign hanging over K C Brooks & Son butcher's shop in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire, describes the business perfectly, as Kenneth Brooks and his son Stephen place a priority on customers. A good chat and friendly welcome go hand-in-hand as soon as you walk through the door - not to mention all the local news. And the meat is not bad either - 'Black Gold' - supplied by Mathers in Scotland.

This traditional village-style shop is a thriving concern with a strong emphasis on catering for local needs, recently reaffirmed when it diversified into supplying fresh vegetables after local fruit and vegetable business, Sparshott's, closed its retail operation to concentrate on the more profitable wholesale side of the business. This left a hiatus in the village, and caused particular problems for the elderly, who faced having to buy and carry their produce from the supermarket - an eight-mile round trip by bus.

It was Brooks to the rescue, who after learning of their plight, approached and struck a deal with Sparshott on a sale or return basis. Bought in daily, the service has been well received by grateful shoppers with vegetable supplies almost always sold-out.

Brooks started in the butchery trade in 1954. At age 11 Stephen started helping in the shop and, as soon as he had left school, joined his father.

During the first two years, Brooks worked in Chiswell Green, but delivered to Bricket Wood, where he had three premises built. One of these was a butcher's shop. In the early years, he was assisted by his wife. Now, it is run solely by father and son, with other family members helping out only at Christmas. Brooks says: "My main concern is satisfying customers - the personal touch is very important."

This is very much in evidence at Christmas when the shop is highly decorated and full of festive cheer. Father and son, dressed in aprons bearing the messages , 'Merry Christmas From Me' and 'Merry Christmas From Him', mount hand-painted murals around the walls," a signal to customers that it is time to place turkey orders. And two days before Christmas, it is all hands on deck when the queue of people collecting their orders have been known to snake along the street.

Customers like the service but the quality of the meat acts as a magnet too. The Brooks supply Black Gold meat which is sourced from quality-assured, grass-reared herds in Aberdeenshire and north-east Scotland. The meat was specifically chosen by Brooks & Son for its superior quality. It is a similar story behind their supply of English poultry. The shop makes its own sausages and kebabs, which are big sellers - particularly around summer. Making up the product roster is locally-produced free-range and barn eggs, cheese and cooked meats.

It would be reasonable to assume that the 1990 BSE scare hit their trade adversely, but according to Stephen, all it did was strengthen trade: "If anything, it has made us busier as people trust the source of our meat and come to us instead of going to the supermarket." Last year went down as the busiest on record. Kenneth says: "The quality of meat is much better now than when I started out in the business which is all down to the farmers. They produce a much better quality product today." He agrees that being open to a world market means farmers must be at the top of their game. As with BSE, the recent bird flu scare has not dented their poultry trade.

Stephen says: "You may notice a slight drop in meat or poultry demand when such problems are in the media, but only temporarily. People soon forget." Nor has vegetarianism affected business to any great extent. In fact, business has been rock solid.

This could have something to do with the location of his client base, 50% of which are senior citizens and local residents. Consequently, the business does not have to proactively seek out new customers, and can afford to rely on word of mouth and a quarterly advert in the local residents association's 'Bricket Wood Report' to get new shoppers in.

Meanwhile, it is clear that father and son love their jobs. Both men are always impeccably dressed and have a professional approach to their customers. While there are set trading hours, the door is invariably open as soon as they get in and start preparing for the day's trade. And they are flexible about lunchtime closing - they never turn people away. Kenneth, now approaching his 79th birthday, epitomises everyone's favourite granddad. There is always a mischievous glint in his eye, an infectious chuckle and a perpetually warm smile. He says that while he still enjoys his work and has good health he will keep going until he falls over and even then he'd probably still keep going.

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