Recession-beating strategies the enterprising Butler saw
FUTURE PROOF:The Butler's Pantry
In November 1987, chef Eileen Bergin opened her first Butler’s Pantry shop on Mount Merrion Avenue in Dublin. Back then, the business sold just 12 dishes per day. Twenty-five years and one recession later, it now sells 1,600 dishes a day and has nine shops around Dublin. This year it won five gold stars for its dishes at the Great Taste Awards.
Managing director Jacquie Marsh acquired a share in the company in 2000, following 10 years consulting high-potential start-up businesses. She had worked with McDonald’s, Next and PJ Carroll’s.
“Turnover was not much more than €500,000 a year when I joined the company; now it is topping €4.5 million.
“Eileen was running the business on her own at that stage and her expertise was food. My background was marketing and brand development, so I joined the company with the intention of growing it.”
The duo revamped the three shops already in operation and quickly started opening new stores across Dublin, starting with one in Sandymount and then in Clontarf. When the downturn hit in 2008, it put huge pressure on the business.
“We opened a shop in Wicklow but the lovely recession put paid to that. We had opened it in 2008 in the belief that the area would grow rapidly and lots of young people would move there.” The shop closed two years later.
The recession hasn’t been the only thing to affect sales, Marsh says. “The county council removed parking from Mount Merrion Avenue, where our flagship store is located. Our sales reduced dramatically in that shop – by more than 20 per cent – as no one could park outside it any more.”
With sales down due to a lack of parking and consumers having less money, the company had no choice but to make changes, according to Marsh.
“We had to revamp more than 50 per cent of our product range and started doing supper-club value offerings such as two dishes for €10. We didn’t want to be perceived as only being a treat.
“The premium ready-made sector was blown out of the water, with consumers able to buy meals for €4.50.”
The business also entered negotiations with suppliers and landlords in an effort to get overheads down.
“We talked to our 90 staff and got them to take pay cuts – not once, but twice. The pay cut was 5 per cent each time. We renegotiated with all our suppliers. We also renegotiated rents with our landlords, some more successfully than others.”
The changes paid off as the company will open its 10th shop in the first half of next year. “We are also looking for new locations for other shops.”
One of the good things about the recession, according to Marsh, is that members of the public have started seeking a good restaurant alternative at the weekends, so they turn to homecooked meals à la Butler’s Pantry instead.
The company is in the middle of rebranding, with new packaging already on the shelves.
“We’ve spent the last six months looking carefully at our brand. We’re changing the look of all our shops so they have a natural feel with earthy colours.”
Marsh says social media will be very important for the business. “Our customers traditionally tend to be a bit older. We’d like to appeal to more people in the 25- to 35-year-old group. Facebook and Twitter will be important to do that.
“We have a product range that retails at €5.50-€5.90 at the start of the week, which we hope will appeal to them.
“We will also have online ordering after Christmas to make it easier for people.”