I'd like to enter your new Butcher's Shop of the Year Awards but am not sure how to go about it, or how well I would do. Any tips? DH, Southampton.
A These new awards are the successor to the highly popular and long running Top Shop Awards, organised by the Meat Trades Journal since the early 1990's. There's no great mystery to entering or, indeed, to doing well. The entry process is straightforward and in two parts - first, the completion of an entry pack and, second, a visit to your shop by judges, should your entry pack be considered to be one of the best.
The awards are looking for the best run shops - not the ones that are the most modern, nor the ones that have had the most money spent on them, nor the ones whose owners can talk the longest and loudest, but the ones that maximise their trading potential. That means that small shops in poor areas stand as much chance of doing well as larger shops in posh areas.
Judges want to see evidence of how trade pans out during a whole year and what the future holds, rather than a snapshot of how the business is running on the day the entry pack is filled in or when they visit the shop.
Several judging criteria are used, including: shop display and layout, the quality of the meat and its cutting, staff efficiency and appearance, work and co-operation with others in the supply chain, marketing and promotion, forward planning and diversification, and work in the local community.
It sounds daunting doesn't it! But it needn't be. Okay, when the pack lands on your desk it might seem like we're asking for a business plan, and to a certain extent we are. But we don't want War and Peace. The main mistakes butchers make in filling in the pack is in providing too little information, or far too much. Too little and there is nothing to judge, too much and the judges do not have time to wade through the information; remember that they may have hundreds of packs to go through.
In answering the questions try to paint a picture of how the shop trades during the year, how it adapts to changing times - summer, winter, Christmas, Easter and so on. Highlight your unique selling points, what customers like about your shop, and use real examples. The USP is not that you sell quality meat and provide good service - all butchers' will claim that.
One particularly good way of illustrating excellence is to highlight a trading problem and how it was solved. For example one butcher told how he was struggling with sales from a particular cabinet. He moved it through 90 degrees so it faced the shop door rather than being side on to it, with the result that sales leapt by 65%. It is that type of practical example that judges notice.
Illustrate your entry pack with good quality photographs showing all aspects of the shop and, importantly, the staff. Provide customer letters, promotional material you may have devised, newspaper cuttings where your business is mentioned, and so on. A picture or poster can paint a thousand words. Keep a portfolio of material as it becomes available during the year. It makes the task of filling in the pack far easier when reference material is available.
If you are fortunate enough to be selected for a visit by judges then make the most of it. While the judges will want to see the shop as it normally trades there is nothing wrong with putting on a special effort, without going overboard.
Make sure that the shop, including the front and the back, as well as the sales area itself, is neat and tidy. Ensure hygiene and health requirements are in order (are there soap and hand drying facilities in the toilet?) It is surprising how often shop owners forget these basic points.
You will have an hour or so to get your message across to the judges, so prepare. If you have highlighted certain points in your entry pack emphasise them when the judges visit. Perhaps put on a presentation of material in a back room to illustrate some aspect of your business - say a project to improve sales to local hotels, or work with local schools, maybe, or simply the training programmes that are in place for staff.
Talking of staff, do involve them. It is amazing how often a shop owner or manager will hog all the limelight and not even introduce the staff to judges. Let staff explain different aspects of the business and what their responsibilities are. Get them to talk about the customers and the local community. Do not worry about being nervous as judges will understand nerves and allow for them.
Do make a special effort with displays and meat cuts but do not go overboard. Do not, for example, deck the whole shop out with balloons and put up welcome notices.
A chart showing year-on-year sales can be a good way of illustrating that you are on top of the business. Do not worry if some sales show a fall, the important point is to explain why (poorer weather may be one reason).
Remember that judges want a complete picture of your business, including what the future holds. If, for example, a new housing estate is to be built explain how you intend to win customers.
At the end of the day there is no formula for doing well in the awards but by entering you will learn a lot about your own business. Even better, give the job of compiling the entry to a new member of staff, as they will learn so much.
And do not be disheartened if, at first, you do not succeed. Try, try and try again. Butchers who fail to win through to the final often ask me: "Where did I go wrong?" Quite often there is nothing wrong.
One butcher summed up his entry as follows "I got to the final but we didn't win. And I sat there and saw and heard why others won, and I thought 'We do that, and we do that!' The trouble was we never mentioned it when the judges came round. We'll know better next year." The next year he won!
To enter Butcher's Shop of the Year, contact Hazel Smith on 01293 867628, or on