Family butchers boosts success with a focus on fitness foods
Every company faces challenges in their business at some time or another and this week's family of entrepreneurs are no exception. In 2006, when fourth-generation butcher Paddy O'Leary was faced with rising rent prices and increased competition from supermarkets, he decided to move his butchers business out of his shop in the Northside Shopping Centre and into a factory-style outlet in a nearby industrial estate.
The move turned out such a success that together with his sons, Brian and David, he decided to set up the Dublin Meat Company and now own six factory retail shops as well as a thriving online business. They employ 40 staff and have an annual turnover of more than €9m.
What surprises me at first I visit the O'Leary's in their flagship factory shop and central production facility in Swords, is that their premises is not in a typical shopping centre or high street location but in a small industrial park off the town's main street. "What is different about us compared to other butchers is that our shops are all factory shops. Because of this, we have significantly lower overheads which, in turn, enables us to pass on these savings to our loyal customer base thereby offering value our competitors can't match," says Brian, the company's managing director.
Inside, the shop looks like any typical butchers, except much larger, with displays of everything from steaks and stewing beef to trays of lamb, pork, chicken mince and burgers.
It's a no-frills approach where everything is keenly-priced and clearly-marked. There's even an area offering macro friendly pre-packed meals. Microwavable, and ranging from wholemeal pasta to Thai chicken curry, these are ideal for people with busy lives.
"We literally sell thousands of these ready meals every week," explains Brian. "It's part of the change that has taken place in the business over the past two years.
"While we retain our traditional loyal customer base, we now also service the demands of a younger demographic whose focus is more on fitness and nutrition," he adds, pointing to a dedicated area of the store called FitFoods.
Created as a sub-brand within the business, FitFoods, offers a huge selection of low-fat and high-protein meats.
"The whole FitFoods side of the business is proving to be hugely successful for us. We thought initially that it might be a niche market for those who go to the gym regularly but it has grown to include everyone from members of slimming clubs to mothers who are increasingly concerned about the health and weight of their children," he adds.
The company also has a thriving online business delivering meat and meals, in temperature-controlled boxes, to customers all over the country. This has enabled them to reach a whole new cohort of customers normally outside their geographical reach.
To the rear of the shop in Swords is the company's centralised factory. This is where the meat is delivered from suppliers and where it is cut, packed and quality checked before being delivered to the other stores.
Here I meet Brian's brother, David, and their father, Paddy. Affable and immediately engaging, Paddy tells me that he grew up in Dublin's inner city where both his father and grandfather were butchers. In time, Paddy went on to open his own butcher shop, O'Leary's, in the Northside Shopping Centre in Coolock which he ran successfully for over 40 years. "Things began to get much tougher in the early 2000s," says Paddy. "Supermarkets were upping their own meat offerings and rents started to rise dramatically which made it more difficult to compete.
"That's when I decided to move away from the traditional location model and along with my son, David, set up the Dublin Meat Company in nearby Artane. We decided to do something different by going down the "factory shop" route. By that stage, I had built up a very loyal following of customers and because I was only moving about five minutes away, most of my original customers followed me to this new outlet."
The new business was such a success that Paddy sold his unit in the shopping centre and instead began concentrating on expanding his factory shop concept. Two years later, the pair opened their second factory shop, this time in the Kinsealy Garden Centre on the Malahide Road. It too, took off. Their model was now working.
It was at this point that Brian joined the business. Having completed a degree in Business Studies in DCU, he had spent the next 15 years working as a currency trader between London and Dublin.
Who does what in the business, I ask.
"It's a real team effort," explains Brian. "I am managing director and look after the retail and marketing side of the business. My father, Paddy, looks after the factory and all things production while David manages sourcing and purchasing. It's a winning combination," he says.
They tell me too that they have a mentor, Tony Richie, with whom they meet regularly. Acting as sounding board, he helps them address issues as they arise. "It's something we would definitely recommend for any business but especially a family business," says Paddy "We have found it useful to have an objective viewpoint when differences of opinion arise and thankfully it's working because we have never fallen out."
Changing a company's business model can often be risky so what challenges if any, did they face along the way?
"The two biggest challenges we had were finding suitable locations and sourcing qualified butchering staff to work in them," says Brian. "There were no easy answers to either challenge except to persevere until we had addressed both.
"In addition, other people began setting up their own versions of our factory shops and, unfortunately, because not everyone had the same focus on quality as we have, this resulted in the factory shop concept getting a bad name for a while which we had to overcome."
With competition emerging, the O'Learys began to look around for opportunities to differentiate themselves and it was then that they set their sights on the fitness food side of the business.
"Good abs are made in the kitchen," says Brian. "Research shows that only about 30pc of fitness come from working out in the gym while 70pc happens in the kitchen - by managing the quality of what you eat."
Looking now to the future, the company is focused on aggressive growth and aims to have 10 shops within the next two years. With this in mind, they are in the process of hiring a marketing person as well as a dedicated social media expert.
"We are very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as are most of our younger customers. It's a great platform for communicating with them about special offers or new products we are launching," says Brian.
"With a database of 15,000 text numbers, we regularly use these to keep in touch with our customers."
Full of ideas, they tell me that they are also planning to launch their own range of FitFoods-branded products.
The O'Leary's have managed to grow a very successful business based on combining value for money, convenience and quality produce. Theirs is a great example of how, with the benefit of an innovative approach and a progressive mind set, it is possible to turn a challenge into an opportunity while at the same time managing to disrupt even the most traditional of business sectors.
For further information: www.dublinmeatcompany.com
Sunday Indo Business