From banking to butchery with Reach Commercial Finance

Commercial Finance

As reported by Meat Management magazine.

How and why a former commercial banker decided the meat and retail trade was for him and opened for business in June last year.

When Gerry Mackenzie started making sausages with prime pork supplied from a local pig farmer, little did he know his personal passion for quality meat products would lead to a change of profession, help other newcomers forge a career in the trade and provide employment for skilled butchers.

When friends and family initially asked the former commercial banker about buying his sausages, he politely declined due to potential red tape and it would probably have stayed that way had it not been for conversation with a supportive environmental health officer.

Fifteen years on, Gerry's interest in meat has resulted in him taking over two long-established Hampshire butcher shops and opening an all-new showcase farm shop.

The business success story combines the best of both worlds for consumers who can choose how they want to shop, and it's a far cry from the time Gerry made sausages on his day off and put in a tentative phone call to the local council.

"I was concerned about what went into sausages and the quality of the meat so I started making my own with pork shoulder;' explained Gerry whose banking career spanned 30 years and at one time involved him commuting from Cambridge to the City of London before he moved to Fordingbridge.

"People started asking me if I could make some for them but I said I couldn't because of environmental health restrictions.

But they kept asking so I did phone the EHO and they couldn't have been more helpful. After the first conversation the officer rang back 45 minutes later and asked if I would be making less than 12.5 metric tonnes of sausages a week. I said I would be lucky if I made even 50kg and that meant there was a way around it.

"After inspections and complying with the relevant legislation, I started sending out an email at the beginning of the week to ask what people wanted so I knew how much to order and then I made them on a Friday on my day off. It became known as the 'sausage circular' and from half a dozen people it grew and grew until I was getting emails from people I didn't even know:'

Last year Gerry cemented plans for a career change and went into the meat and retail trade with his wife Cath.

"We bought Price's butchers in June'' he said. "The business has been in existence since the 1850s and was one of several, but one by one they closed as people retired until it was the only butchers in Fordingbridge. We knew the last owner, David Price, wanted to retire and saw it as something we could take on. We also bought another shop in the village of Downton, seven miles away, and completed the second part of the acquisition in October".

At first people asked if the shops would remain as butchers and once they learned they would the next question was whether the couple had any plans to change them.

"We are committed to taking on people with skills or training them. We want to employ the next generation of butchers."

Gerry said: "We were very mindful they were long established village shops and although we have invested in them heavily we wanted to keep them accessible. When we took over the shops they had four excellent butchers and we are very lucky that they have all stayed as it is very difficult to get skilled butchers:'

Locally produced meats

Whilst retaining the ethos and character of the shops the Mackenzies have started promoting a wider range of locally produced meats.

"We have the New Forest on one side and Cranborne Chase on the other which is a spectacular part of the country;' said Gerry. "It isn't as well-known as the New Forest but has a number of farmers who have small suckler herds of really interesting beef which are very well husbanded and finished. They really know what they are doing and we wanted to go direct to these farmers and are now working with four or five of them.

"We buy whole carcasses and they are mostly indigenous breeds such as Belted Galloway, Black Dexter and Angus and we butcher the whole animal and hang and age the meat. We have introduced some customers to new varieties of meat and they really enjoyed it and this helped create a demand. They know that because they come from small producers we will not have it in stock all the time and they pre-order for when it next comes in. We buy some meat from wholesalers but there is a real demand for local meat, which is also very important to us when it comes to animal husbandry, supporting the rural economy and providing quality you can't get in supermarkets:'

Farm shop opening

The shops began doing deliveries to customers during lockdown and plan to carry on doing so in the future. Whilst both shops have remained busy with local customers since the takeover, Gerry and Cath were also mindful of those who prefer the convenience of being able to drive out of town and park, which culminated with January's opening of Fordingbridge Farm Shop.

"Last August I was made aware of a new development which was a redevelopment of an old industrial site that at one time had been a dairy farm;' said Gerry. "It was being done by very good local developers who do a lot of light industrial units but in this instance it was the ideal site for a farm shop. I went along and talked to them and we were successful in negotiating the lease, helped enormously by the fact we'd built up a reputation for the butchers.

"It's on the edge of Fordingbridge and ideal to serve the section of the community that don't want to walk into town and prefer to get into a car. Our rationale is that by having shops and a farm shop we can cater for everyone:'

Gerry and Cath had a full complement of staff on their books by November in order to be in place when the doors opened. These include butchers, an Italian chef, serving staff and the butchers of the future; bringing the total across the three outlets to nearly 20 full-time and part -time employees.

Fitted out from scratch, the contemporary, welcoming farm shop includes a meat aging display cabinet and bakery. The extensive range of meat includes home-mad e sausages that have already won regional accolades and 2020 Craft Butcher Awards since first being introduced in the two high street shops. The farm shop also sells locally sourced vegetables, cheeses, preserves, wine and groceries.

Gerry said: "We are focusing on produce from Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. We are not being pretentious about food but we are uncompromising on quality at all price points and whatever people buy we want them to always feel they are getting the best and the best value for their money. The bakery is far more than a bakery as the chef came from a gastropub and is also making fresh pasta, sauces and other Italian delicatessen items. We thought that if we like to eat them then other people are going to as well!"


The shop is already on the lookout for another butcher or improver and Gerry plans to continue expanding and recruiting over the next two years.

"We are committed to taking on people with skills or training them;' he said. "Our Saturday boy has just passed his exams at Sparsholt College and will become an apprentice and we also have a lad doing work placement from Salisbury College. We want to employ the next generation of butchers:'

The trio of outlets has also been helping customers that might be new to buying meat over the counter.

"All of our butchers are good cooks and can give advice about cuts and how to cook them;' said Gerry. "However, we're aware there are people who are used to picking up pre-packed meat at supermarkets that are now using a butchers for the first time and might feel nervous about asking a big burly butcher for advice but might feel more comfortable talking to a woman. So we also have female staff serving and this has had really positive feedback. Cath has worked a lot on the counter and loves it"

Fordingbridge Farm Foods Limited became a reality with the assistance of funding accessed through Reach Commercial Finance. Gerry said he would be looking to the specialist financial broker to help attain future expansion and plans include opening a café next to the farm shop, starting an outdoor catering business from an eye-catching vintage Citroen van and opening a London farm shop to promote regional produce.

Gerry said moving into the meat trade from a completely different background had been an asset rather than a hindrance.

"We have come in with a different mindset and different set of skills which complement the valuable skills of our butchers"

In fact, Gerry originally started his working life as a violin restorer and repairer so changing profession is nothing new to him, which has been proven by the success of the latest string to his bow.

Reach Commercial Finance is an independent financial brokerage with a wide range of experience in helping limited companies and corporate entities secure funding. It is part of Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group.


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