Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Butcher Shops
The general climate of the region’s small to medium sized butcher shops remains a hot topic of conversation. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from our perspective as people who sell both retail meats through our federal labels, and quarters, halves, and wholes to customers throughout the year.
The average butcher shop owner/manager would give the average age of the American rancher a run for the money. They’re in their 60’s, by and large, and doing three times the work of the average individual for a relatively small paycheck. As they retire or pass away, it is nearly impossible to find someone to manage and/or own their previous workplace. It is much like farming and ranching in that it can easily become a 24/7 job, and that takes a certain work ethic and love of the job that very few possess.
Butcher shops can be “grandfathered in” at least part of the time as new rules and regulations are passed that impact their shop at whatever level of inspection they operate under. Some choose to upgrade, and maintain compliance with those new rules and regs. Some don’t. Those that don’t end up with a business that will cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to bring back into compliance when it is sold. That is rarely appealing to potential future owners, resulting in doors being shut on some shops as the older generation leaves.
These first two things are not new, and have slowly but steadily created a bottleneck at the butcher shop level. When COVID hit, that bottleneck wasn’t able to expand, and a lot more people became aware of it.
Then the stimulus checks were rolled out, and another ongoing issue was exasperated – the ability to hire good help, and get them to show up for work. When people could literally make more sitting at home than they could at work, most opted to stay home. Just a couple weeks back, a shop owner told us he had seven people hired to work his kill floor, and three had shown up that morning.
The impact of lack of labor is felt hard, and creates a domino effect in butcher shops that can take weeks, or months, to overcome. Assuming all employees show up to work over the course of those weeks and months.
We’ve been in on several conversations about building new packing plants, and it always comes back to who will run it. Most of us with an interest in providing more butcher shop options already farm and/or ranch fulltime. There is no way we can manage an additional business of that magnitude, especially if our labor force shows up half the time.
The other aspect of potentially opening a new butcher shop is the cost. I have heard more than one person quote a state-inspected kill floor costing upwards of $500,000 to build new. Just for the kill floor.
But, as is always the case in times of challenge; there are also opportunities. If you’re looking for a good job, you can be trained while earning a paycheck in a butcher shop. It is a skillset that will transfer with you anywhere in America. I am willing to bet if you check with the one closest to your home, you can have a job by week’s end.
For those with a solid work ethic seeking to own or manage a business, the opportunities are real and they’re big at present. It is rare in the business world to open a new business and operate a full capacity, but right now that is a real possibility with a butcher shop. We would be calling to get on your schedule the day you open, and we aren’t the only ones.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Feb. 27, 2021 edition of Tri-State Livestock News