Stakeholders in a butchering tradition which goes back generations
Small Business - Future Proof Tommy and Darragh Buckley, FX Buckley
FX Buckley is keeping tradition to the fore of its efforts to modernise and expand. From right: butchers Darragh Buckley, Alan McKay and Ian Fleming
With a history in Dublin’s meat industry stretching back to the time of James Joyce’s Ulysses – and before – it’s no surprise that FX Buckley is keeping tradition to the fore of its efforts to modernise and expand.
The family’s involvement in the meat business goes back six generations, with the first stand-alone butcher shop opened by Francis Xavier on Moore Street in 1930, thus creating the FX Buckley brand.
Francis Xavier and Dausie Buckley had 13 children. Of the seven brothers, six are still involved in the business. The shop on Moore Street is owned by Paddy; Harry runs a meat factory in Rathcoole, Sean has a farm; Joe owns the FX Buckley restaurant in Monkstown, south Dublin; Tommy, his wife Maria, and son Darragh run the shops on Talbot Street, Nutgrove shopping Centre, and the new shop in Deansgrange, as well as partnering in the FX Buckley restaurants on Pembroke Street, Ryan’s of Parkgate Street, Crow Street and the Butchers Bar, Christchurch, which are run by Des and his sons Stephen and Brian.
The decision for each of the brothers to go it alone was a conscious one.
“At one stage, there was a problem – not everyone was able to make a decision,” Tommy recalls. So the business was structured in a way which gave each son ownership of a particular area of the business.
“Now the different parts have come together under the FX Buckley brand and we’ve gone from strength to strength,” adds his son Darragh.
The last expansion for this arm of the Buckley family was back in the 1980s when it added to its Talbot Street shop by opening an outlet in Nutgrove, Rathfarnham.
But a couple of years ago Tommy felt the time was ripe for a further expansion, which was timed nicely with the official entry of his son Darragh into the family business.
Having worked in the shops as a child, Darragh always knew he wanted to get involved in the family business, but wanted to get some outside experience first. So, after a masters in strategic management in UCD Smurfit School, he headed for London where he did his butcher’s apprenticeship in Moens, a traditional butcher in Clapham.
“It was very much focused on the art of meat, which grew my passion and skills in presenting meat,” he says.
Having decided to expand again, they started to look for a location for their new shop, with a particular focus on the south side of Dublin, where, Tommy says, the FX Buckley brand “has a very strong name”.
The move took longer than they had hoped but it all came good in the end, and now the family is only sorry they didn’t make the move earlier.
“Sales are ahead of forecast already,” says Tommy.
But the decision to open a new shop wasn’t always so straight-forward. Given the strength of supermarkets, it wasn’t so long ago that Tommy thought the writing may have been on the wall for independent butchers, as he watched sales plummet by as much as 40 per cent.
Today however, the trade is in revival mode.
“People are coming back to the butcher. It was dying but now it’s coming back,” he says. “Older people are beginning to tell the younger people what they used to buy and they are listening more,” he adds, noting that older cuts, such as rib steak on the bone, brisket, corn beef, liver, and packet and tripe, are all coming back into fashion”.
The new FX Buckley outlet in Deansgrange sits beside SuperValu, and facing a branch of Lidl, but Tommy believes that a focus on quality will see the butcher face up to the competition.
“Our main focus is quality and always will be. We also give a service – our butchers are craftsmen and this passion spills over to customers,” he says, adding, “We try to exceed people’s expectations. We’re trying to push the standards ourselves.”
Traceability is another key element that can help a butcher distinguish itself.
“Everything is sourced in Ireland and certified – showing the source is very important,” says Darragh, adding that a key element of the business is in building up long-term relationships with suppliers, which include other members of the Buckley family.
Another element of FX Buckley’s approach is a combination of keeping up with the times – as evidenced by the range of pre-packaged meats in the market deck of the new Deansgrange outlet – and keeping tradition at the heart of the business.
When the original FX went to Paris for his honeymoon, he came back with the tag line “meat par excellence”, and the butcher still uses this today, expanding it to “steak and drinks par excellence” for use in the restaurants.
Long-term, the plan is to continue to expand and, with a new generation of Buckleys, such as Darragh – and his younger brother Sean, who is working part-time in the business – the family’s legacy in the meat industry is likely to continue.