Balmoral show: 'Lisnaskea people like our oven-ready meals but they aren't so keen on spicy flavours'
In the run-up to next month’s Balmoral Show, Lisa Smyth talks to two retailers based in rural areas about how they strive to stay fresh and relevant as they compete with the big supermarkets
If there is anyone who knows what it takes to run a successful butchers, it is Clive Richardson. Clive (38) has been working in the family-run LA Richardson & Sons since he was just 12.
It is fair to say he has seen the industry change dramatically over the years. And Clive has played an important role in ensuring the butchers shop - on Main Street in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh - stays competitive and continues to attract customers through the doors.
LA Richardson & Son, which employs four people, has been in business for more than four decades.
It was opened by his father, who also owned a farm just four miles away in Maguiresbridge, and much of the meat sold at the shop comes from the family farm.
When it first opened its doors, the shop stocked and sold the basic meat produce you would expect in any butchers, such as chickens, mince and meat joints.
However, the range has expanded massively over the years, to help them compete with the large multiples, as well as catering to the increasingly diverse palate of the consumer.
Clive explained: "The meat that we sell in the shop comes from our farm and another farm in the area.
"There is also a large range of oven-ready products, to meet the expectations of our customers. They want meals they don't have to prep so they are ready to go in the oven and they can get on with something else while they're cooking.
"Things have changed so much since I started working in the shop. We would have sold meat for stew and mince, but we really moved into today's oven-ready meals in 2005.
"We started off quite slowly because we weren't exactly sure who the range would do. We weren't fully convinced ourselves the demand was there, but things gathered pace quite quickly."
Due to the uncertainty at the beginning, LA Richardson & Son started off producing quite simple dishes.
They worked closely with organisations - such as the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) at Loughry - on product development and they are planning to expand their range further over the summer months.
Clive continued: "One of the first flavours we did was pork chops with apple and sage, which is a fairly versatile flavour, and there would be very few people who wouldn't like it.
"We got more adventurous over time, although I have to say that the people of Lisnaskea don't like very spicy flavours.
"We have found over the years that it is still a no-go flavour for our customers, although there are plenty of other flavours they will try.
"After about six or eight months of starting selling the oven-ready products, it became clear that was the direction the market was going.
"It's so important that you react to the consumer spend when you are in business."
The demand for oven-ready products has risen to the point that it now makes up 50% of the shop's business.
Clive also explained that a lot more thought and planning goes into the stock in the shop than would be expected. He said: "On a normal week there would probably be about 50 products on sale on the counter and the following week you would largely have a completely different range of foods.
"We have just found that the same range, week in week out, will not sell well whereas we will do a lot better if we change the range on offer.
"There is always a market for the traditional products but we also want to appeal to the young professional who is coming home from work and are looking for something handy, or for an older person who lives alone.
"We aim for all our oven-ready products to be ready in about 25 minutes. It takes a lot of time creating unique products - we want to sell something that you can only get in our shop."
Clive said this helps the shop compete against big supermarkets like Tesco and Asda.
"Obviously that can be difficult because of the buying power of the big supermarkets, because we are a small butchers shop we do struggle to buy stuff at the price the big chains can.
"It is tough for us to get the same prices, but it is just the way it is and it's not going to go away so it is something we just have to deal with."
Another factor which Clive said gives LA Richardson & Son the edge over the major supermarket chains is the personal touch.
"They don't do one to one the way that we do," he explained.
"If a customer wants a specific product - maybe they are having a party on a certain day - we can make sure we have that product for them.
"An awful lot of our customers are repeat customers, which says to me to me that they are coming because they have confidence in us that we will deliver.
"That's so important, they know that if they want that good steak on the table because visitors are coming, then they come to us."