Bringing A Traditional Butcher’s Shop Into The 21st Century In Meaty Style
From a traditional high street butchers shop to online shopping, nationwide deliveries, books, videos and media attention, James Whelan Butchers is leading the way. I spotted Pat Whelan on Twitter a while ago and thought what a great job he was doing for his business; he has a really fun attitude online plus pushing the business in a subtle way which works. I certainly wanted to know more. In this interview Pat explains how the business has been in the family for over 50 years with himself bringing it into the 21st Century, being the first Irish butcher establishing a great online presence and expanding into new markets – and I don’t mean cattle markets.
How long has your family business been going, who started it and who is involved nowadays?
The craft of butchering has been in the family for generations (I am the 5th generation) and interestingly my mother taught my father as it’s from her side! My mother and father started in Clonmel in 1960 and retired in 1999 when I took over. My father, James Whelan, is still in the background farming and there for general advice and assistance. We both go to the mart every week and I’d say he’s forgotten more than I will ever learn about the livestock trade in Ireland.
People often ask me when did I first realise I was going to be a butcher and for me it was the most natural progression in life as I suppose butchering is part of my DNA. All the decisions I have made along the way seem to come naturally and the business seems to have evolved quite easily and without much fuss. I’ve built a great team of people around me over the years, all with unique talents and all of our endeavours have been the result of team collaboration.
When did you decide for your business to go online and why? How has going online helped your business and what new markets have you grown into?
Taking a traditional business and adding value to it grabs the imagination of a lot of people and with that a lot of attention and opportunity. As we have developed this business we have always remained true to the core value of the business ‘quality’. Bringing the business to the digital arena certainly opened up a lot of opportunity for us and allowed us to serve people who we could never have connected with in the past.
Firstly we have developed a box which keeps the temperature for up to 48 hours and secondly we have developed partnerships with logistics companies that allow us to serve any address in Ireland or the UK overnight. This has had a huge impact on our overall business and allowed us to grow in a quiet but meaningful way.
I am the fifth generation of my family to be involved in this business and every day I see it as something I have borrowed from my children rather than inherited from my parents. For someone like me involved in a business that is part of a long family heritage the onus is to make sure your business is relevant to the generation you are serving and hopefully positioned well enough to sustain another generation.
Related: The High Street Needs to Go Online
Your website is great and very informative – who comes up with all the ideas?
The first website was a static website launched in 2001 and the current is the fourth site we have developed embracing the technology as it evolved along the way. Our mission is for the site to firstly be a meaningful resource for our customers by sharing our knowledge and insights into our business and through video sharing techniques etc; and secondly to sell products to our customers all over Ireland offering them an overnight delivery service to any address. I am always keen to keep the site updated weekly so there is something new when our visitors return. I am personally responsible for the updating of content to the web and it’s something I really enjoy.
You are hot on Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, Blogging – which is your favourite and why? How do you find time for Social Media?
I personally enjoy social media and have developed a particular interest in Twitter. I think the reason for this is that the “Irish Food” community at this moment in time is at the cutting edge and there are a number of key players who are all of the same vintage who have embraced it and made the “food Scene” on Twitter what it is today. There is a great sense of “family” and a Meitheal approach to helping each other with shared learning and experiences which makes it so interesting and enjoyable. I look at the time I spend on social media as an investment in the future.
You have an extensive Trophy cabinet – which Trophy are you most proud of?
I have been the recipient of many Trophies and Awards and I suppose the most prestigious one for me was the Marketing Institute Award which is a great recognition of all our endeavours as a team with no Marketing budget…….
You recently opened a new outlet in Avoca Monkstown – do you have any plans to open more?
In December 2011 we opened our first shop away from home. We are delighted to have partnered with the much loved Irish brand Avoca. The Pratt family share a similar ethos to ourselves and were a perfect partner for us. I was also joined by my sister and she and her husband run that shop in Dublin. They are a great support to me as we grow and develop our family business. The Monkstown shop has been a huge success from day one and as always we are looking to continue and develop opportunities for our business.
I’m glad I persevered with Pat as he didn’t think he was interesting enough to be interviewed!? I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he has a fascinating story to tell and I’m so glad he shared it with me, and therefore you too.