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Me and My Factory

Pie maker plans expansion after factory investment

Post a commentBy Noli Dinkovski , 13-Sep-2017
Last updated on 13-Sep-2017 at 13:49 GMT2017-09-13T13:49:01Z

Eric Richmond boss Tom Martin talks about factory investment and the future of the company
Eric Richmond boss Tom Martin talks about factory investment and the future of the company

Founded by a World War II pilot, pie maker Eric Richmond looks set to soar after new factory investment, owner Tom Martin explained.

Based in Ossett, we specialise in making and supplying a wide range of pies, sausages and cuts of meat to butcher’s shops and delicatessens throughout Yorkshire.

The business was started in 1945 by Eric Richmond. He had just left the Royal Air Force (RAF), having been one of the youngest pilots to fly a Lancaster bomber during the war. Eric joined the RAF squadron stationed in Lincolnshire at the age of 19, and flew on many successful missions.

Operating from a shop in Ossett town centre, Eric developed a strong reputation as a butcher, and was invited to judge at the Royal Smithfield Show on more than one occasion.

I bought the wholesale side of the business from Eric’s son, Robin, three years ago. His other son, Michael, still runs two butcher’s shops.

My background is in IT. During my career, I played a central role in building the first online bank for First Direct, and for a time I worked at ICL in Wakefield, before it became Fujitsu.

People wonder why I swapped a long and successful career in IT to run a food business – and it’s a question I sometimes ask myself. The most sincere answer I can give is that some of my happiest times as a child were spent with my dad at Kirkgate market in Leeds, looking at all the tasty local produce on offer.

Whether it was sampling cockles and shellfish from Whitby, or choosing hares and pheasants – which I would help skin and pluck – those experiences gave me a passion for food that has stayed with me throughout my life.

Sales and marketing plan (back to top)

When we bought Eric Richmond, my wife Anne-Marie and I originally planned to develop the sales and marketing side of the business, and then reinvest on the back of that.

Factory facts
  • LOCATION: 99 Dale St, Ossett, West Yorkshire. WF5 9HW
  • SIZE: 669m2
  • STAFF: 15
  • TURNOVER: £1M
  • MAIN PRODUCTS: Pies, sausages and traditional butcher’s fare – including potted beef, polony, black pudding, pressed ox tongue, silverside, topside, brisket, ham, legs of pork and stuffed belly pork.
  • MAIN CUSTOMERS: We deliver directly to around 60 independent retailers across South and West Yorkshire. They are generally butcher’s shops and delicatessens, but include some market stalls.
  • PRODUCTION AREAS: The factory is split into two zones. There is a meat preparation area, which includes bacon curing and sausage making; and a bakehouse, where we make the pastry, assemble the pies and bake the products.
  • TOTAL FACTORY OUTPUT: 6,000 pies a week, rising to 25,000 pies in the week leading up to Christmas.

However, it quickly became very clear that we had inherited a lot of machinery that needed upgrading so we flipped our plans to concentrate on the factory. In three years, we’ve spent in the region of £400,000 of our own money, and we secured a further £100,000 with the help of a local enterprise partnership.

We have brought in a variety of new kit, including a mincer/grinder, a sausage vacuum filler, a walk-in freezer and a coldstore.

While the machinery has proved invaluable, much of our production is still manual. But that’s by design rather than default. Our customers like their pies to have an imperfect, homemade look, and we plan to continue giving them that for as long as we possibly can. However, if we’re going to offer traditional, handmade products with local provenance, we recognise we can’t compete at the value end of the market.

One of the great things about our way of manufacturing is that we can accommodate the different needs of customers. We have some that like their pies a dark golden brown, while there are others that prefer them to be slightly lighter. We can also produce to order, as long as it is of a sufficient quantity.

Maintaining service levels is also important to us, and that’s why we have our own fleet of vehicles. Most of the pies are supplied fresh, and our customers expect deliveries every morning. If we don’t show up, they’ll have nothing to sell.

Our top seller has always been the humble plain pork pie – and I hope it stays that way. Made to Eric’s secret recipe, the pork pie won the Willis Hall Trophy and Small Pork Pie class at the 2015 Great Yorkshire Pie, Sausage and Black Pudding Competition.

Increased demand (back to top)

Our second most popular product is the steak pie, but we are developing products with less familiar ingredients. Both the chilli pork pie and the pork pie with chorizo are selling well, and we’ve just won a star from the Guild of Fine Food for our game pie with red wine and redcurrant.

Increasingly, we are experiencing demand for vegetarian products. To meet this, we’ve just launched three new pies: Mediterranean vegetables in a tomato and herb sauce; spring vegetables in a creamy white wine sauce; and spicy mushroom in a béchamel sauce.

Thanks to our investment and our new product development, we’ve managed to double turnover to £1M in our time here. The next stage is to develop our website and branding, as we originally set out to do. We’ve already decided to simplify our branding to ‘Eric’s’, to help make us distinct from the Richmond sausage brand.

We’ll also have an e-commerce site, and be more active on social media. I think it’s time I put my IT skills to good use!

The plan is to grow the business to £3M in five years, and to double that within 10 years. We would just about be able to cope with a £3M turnover from this site – in the week before Christmas we do four times as many pies than usual – but we would struggle with much more than that.

If and when we do move, I am determined we stay in Ossett. Most of the staff walk to work, so it would make all the difference for them, if nothing else.

  1. While we are ambitious, we are under no illusions about the current market challenges. First, the price of domestic meat has increased as demand has gone up following the fall in the value of sterling.

It’s also no secret that butcher’s shops have had a difficult time in recent years. However, I believe a renaissance in the interest of food is working in their favour. A butcher can provide a valuable service for consumers who want to know about the provenance of meat, and how to cook different cuts.

Support and development (back to top)

Supporting and developing independent butcher’s shops across Yorkshire is one of the key aims of the Confederation of Yorkshire Butchers Councils, of which I have recently been made president.

The organisation is also looking at bringing more younger people into the butchery trade. We have an apprentice butcher here – he joined at 16, has been with us for two years, and now has a trade for life.

One problem we’ve had, however, is finding an apprentice baker. We’ve been looking for three years, which I find very surprising given the popularity of baking shows on TV.

On a more positive note, my son Alexander recently joined the company – which is great for us, as we bought a family business, and we want it to remain a family business. He’ll start on the factory floor, with the idea of working his way up into an operations management role.

Clearly, running a business in the sector we’re in isn’t without its challenges. But I’m convinced that there are enough people out there who share the same passion for food as I do – and that has got to put us in good stead.

Watch the Eric Richmond boss explain why a lucrative career in IT was no match for running a food business and hear more on his plans for the future in our exclusive video interview.

 

Personal
  • NAME: Tom Martin
  • AGE: 57
  • DOMESTICS: Married to Anne-Marie, with three children.
  • OUTSIDE WORK: I enjoy playing cricket during the summer, and golf whenever I can. I am also a qualified football referee, but I haven’t had a chance to officiate many games lately.
  • GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Winning the Willis Hall Trophy and Small Pork Pie class at the 2015 Great Yorkshire Pie, Sausage and Black Pudding Competition. Part of the organic growth we’ve achieved has been through the reputational benefits of having won that accolade – and we saw a benefit for a good many months after.
  • ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF: Be braver, and work for yourself at the earliest opportunity. It’s not easy to walk away from earning a large salary at a big, stable organisation especially when you have your children’s university fees to pay for. So I can justify why I didn’t do it sooner. But when I look back, I think the potential downsides were excuses, rather than real barriers.

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