How bright is the future of retail butchery?

This piece is an honest account of the challenges which I personally see in our industry. It may be controversial and people may have different opinions on some of the content written, however when all told this is my livelihood, my life and my passion. 

All the talk that we read about regarding the butchery industry can often be a little misleading, obviously it always highlights the positives as reading negativity all the time would be damaging to everyone’s morale.  

However, is the retail side of our industry really booming or is the bigger picture looking gloomy?

To start with it is a great industry to be involved in, I have had the pleasure of working in the industry since I was 15 years old when I left school in 1995. It was not something I aspired to be while still at school as I have no family connections within the industry at all.  I have seen a huge amount of change in this period so what about the people who have been in the game for 50/60 years plus, when butchers shops were in the tens of thousands and were a hugely important part of any village, town or city. Can the same be said for today?

Obviously, the numbers have dwindled dramatically which I can only see reducing over time. The same with anything, the good ones will survive and there are many outstanding butchery businesses across the UK, too many to mention but there are also many coming to retirement age with no get out plan or anyone else in the business to take it forward.

It seems the next generation of many of these businesses are not going into the industry, is it because they can earn a much better living doing something else or have they been told there’s not much future in the industry. They may well have seen their parents work day and night to earn, in comparison to some industries, a modest income. Whatever the reasons the ones who make a success of their shops are the ones who work extremely hard and are also the ones who push themselves because of their passion for their profession.
The main reason for the dwindle in shop numbers as everyone knows is the supermarkets. If they have approx. 85% of the meat industry in the UK, that means as an average 8.5 families out of 10 use the supermarkets instead of the butchers shops.

Without any doubt convenience is the main reason, opening hours and a one-stop shop. We just cannot compete with that, we cannot touch them for advertising but we can certainly compete and beat them on price and blow them out of the water for quality and traceability. That is fact.

However, our biggest problem is educating the supermarket shopper that butchers can be cheaper and much better quality, these are the areas we as an industry need to address and quickly.

Another huge aspect that’s come into play over the last few years is online shopping. How many of you buy goods online? I would say pretty much every one of us, but how many of us as a business sell online? How many even have an up to date website? It is vitally important to have a presence of some description online as people come to expect it. A good e-commerce website is certainly not cheap to set up and even maintain so if people are interested or thinking about doing it then I would suggest taking your time and make sure your initial investment is the best one. You can soon spend thousands of pounds with nothing to show for it. Once it’s done you then have to realise that people are suddenly not going to start shopping online with you so a sustained advertising campaign will be needed. There are some superb online businesses available where they certainly don’t rest on their laurels as they add new content and offers daily to keep customers engaged.

Also over the last few years social media has not only played a big part in promoting our businesses but changed how the global population live their lives. For some it’s an obsession, people cannot even walk down the street without being glued to their phone. Facebook/Instagram/Twitter being the big three for us, it is important for each independent business to promote positive news or run competitions but I will argue how many actual buying customers it gets into your shops, if any at all. If it was that easy everyone would be doing it and no one would be buying meat from the supermarkets, that’s how I generally gauge how successful things are.

The trouble is people get too obsessed with how many ‘likes’ they have, you can always tell when people have bought likes with the amount of interaction they get with their posts, people who have several thousand likes and about six or eight like the post, is there any point?

You really need to be looking for at least 2-5% interaction with anything between 5-10% very good and anything beyond that exceptional, if you get that then keep interacting with the same type of content because obviously that’s what your customers are interested in.

What’s the point in having thousands of likes if they have absolutely no interest in your business they will not help you in any way shape or form it just boils down to boosting your own egos. Data is getting everything with big hypergrowth companies, this is an area where butchers really need to step up to the plate.

Collect your customers details and send them emails with offers etc, these are the customers who will share with friends who they think would be potential customers for you. We have a much better rate of success doing this and turning offers into sales than any form of social media activity.

Many businesses embrace new ideas, new trends and innovation, im all for it, however there is no doubt you need a good mix of traditional and innovation products. We need younger people coming through the doors and this is where innovation and ready-made meal solutions certainly help. If businesses do not want to do it then they cannot moan about not getting any new customers through their doors. However, innovation products is also becoming a little bit of an issue as I feel nothing groundbreaking has come along for a few years. (The best product to come out in the last few years are the Verstegen sliceable sauces).

Many new marinades have come and gone but as meat products they are just being stuffed with different things or a different glaze or sauce added to them.

There are products posted on social media as new products that we were doing 10-12 years ago and I’m sure some butchers many years before that, and then getting the hump that someone has stolen their idea. If you don’t want people to copy it then don’t post it, but remember when you do that someone else was probably doing it years before you were!

It also still seems that some areas of the country see other independent butchers as their enemy when all we should be doing is coming together to compete more against the supermarkets. Unfortunately this just boils down to jealousy but remember you get out what you put in, if people are putting much more time and effort into their businesses than you are yours then they deserve every success. It doesn’t matter if you are first or fifth generation, if you’re putting the effort in then great you deserve it.

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