Enyon's shake-up success

Fred A'Court reports on how the recession caused one butcher to turn his busines upsidedown to survivie - with unexpected benefits

Award-winning South Wales butcher Huw Eynon has dramatically transformed his business to beat the recession, abandoning his trademark stylish presentation of fresh meat and gift items in favour of a pre-packed display in his shop and wholesale supply to Spar stores in South Wales.

The St Clears-based butcher, who has twice won the Wales category in Meat Trades Journal's Butcher's Shop of the Year awards and, only two years ago, picked up the top Butcher's Plus award for best UK business, found himself a victim of location. St Clears is a small town, about 10 miles west of Carmarthen. "We were a destination shop and were flattered that customers would drive some distance to visit us," says Eynon.

All that changed, though, as the economy worsened and the butcher found himself standing behind his counter watching the same display of meat for days on end. Turnover halved and customer footfall, along with an online business, collapsed. "We saw the recession coming a long time before the media picked up on it," he says. "I have never known things change so quickly in the commercial world. I became so cautious that the display was never more than 50% full."

To make matters worse, just as the business won the Butchers' Plus award, it was investing in a new 175,000 production plant and storage area at the rear of the shop. The oncoming recession threatened to make the super new facility redundant before its full potential could be realised.

"The awards recognised that we had style, unique presentation and a range of different offerings, but the elevation of our reputation did not translate into extra turnover," says Eynon. "We reached a plateau. What we didn't recognise at the time was that our work, combined with the awards, had built our business as a strong brand."

Luckily or perhaps fortunately because luck played little part in the matter others did spot the strength of the brand, notably the Spar group, which saw that a range of quality Eynon-produced and branded meat products could be a major hit with customers in some of its stores.

Suddenly, the expensive new production plant and storage unit that had been built behind the shop were transformed from a white elephant into a valuable asset. "It was a classic case of making your own luck," says Eynon.

Already equipped with much of the necessary equipment, Eynon had to invest 30,000 in an Elixa Plus shrink-wrapper and an Ilpra Rotobasic gas-flush tray sealer, to have everything necessary to start supplying Spar. The new equipment was supplied by Simcron Food Machinery.

Five of the eight staff employed were redeployed from the shop and backroom preparation areas to work in the plant, preparing packs of meat.

Initially, the new arrangement was trialled in the Spar branch in St Clears, just several hundred yards from the Eynon's shop itself. "Spar is another iron in the fire for us," Eynon admits. He also acknowledges that the new way of doing business has been an amazing revelation in terms of efficiency. With all the products now sealed in gas-flushed packs, losses have been reduced to zero.

Discoloration is a thing of the past and gone are the days of taking meat out of a display, that had been sitting there for a while, and using it for a manufactured product. "We now have much better control of our margins. In fact, we're now selling all our stock at the targeted margin," says Eynon. "We are now carrying two to three times the stock levels we previously did."

What is perhaps more surprising is that, given the closeness of the Spar shop, the sales generated there are mainly new business, rather than sales taken away from Eynon's shop just down the road. Eynon attributes this to the fact that some locals are too intimidated to come into his shop and that he is closed when some people want to buy, while the Spar shop is open for 110 hours a week, from 7am-11pm every day, so covers both scenarios.

He supplies 2,000-worth of product a week into the Spar store and retains control over the display and merchandising of the products something he insists is vital to the operation. The profit margin he makes is acceptable, he says.

Since the successful trial, the Eynon's meat range has been extended across six South Wales Spar stores. At one point he was supplying 10 shops, but four failed to have the correct customer profile or acceptable turnover to maintain supplies. The plan from now on is to supply two or three new Spar stores a year, up to a maximum of 20.

Last month, Eynon took the ultimate step away from the usual perception of a butcher's shop by abandoning his outlet's traditional fresh meat display altogether in favour of a counter full of gas-flushed packs. In the first two weeks, sales increased by 10%. Impulse purchases also rose.

"Everything is packed and priced now. We've fallen into line with what the supermarkets do." Only a few customers have objected to the new look mainly on grounds of the extra use of packaging.
"We've tipped the whole business on its head and given it a good shaking" says Eynon. "I'm not afraid to take a risk and make changes."

Asked if he will revert to the traditional method of displaying fresh meat when the recession ends, he says emphatically "No". The focus has shifted irrevocably and he is now considering the possibility of opening a new shop of his own in Carmarthen, a booming town that is likely to see further retail development in coming years.