Member profile: Aldens of Oxford
Alden’s of Oxford could possibly lay claim to being the oldest family butchery business in the country. Incredibly, Managing Director, Matthew Alden, can trace Alden’s butchery roots back 230 years to 1793, when his ancestor Isaac Alden opened the first Aldens butchers shop on Bear Lane, Oxford. Matthew is now the 7th generation Alden to run the business, which although has changed dramatically over the years, remains a family business, founded on principles of providing top quality meat with provenance, and ensuring solid long term relationships with customers, staff, and suppliers alike.
The Aldens ‘story’- Investing to grow
A key element of the Aldens story is one of determination and investment. From that first shop on Bear Lane, Aldens went on to establish premises in Oxford’s covered market, and by 1960 they had ten. In 1999 the company moved out of town, and temporarily retail butchery, into purpose built premises in Osney Mead. After working for Leith’s, which gave him a valuable insight into catering and the supply chain, Matthew joined the company full time the same year. This enabled Aldens to service the increasingly complex needs of their larger catering and wholesale customers.
In 2008 the company ventured back into retail, opening ‘Meatmasters’ next door to their existing business. Although the smaller arm of their business, the retail shop plays a crucial role in balancing the cash flow of the business, as payment is instantaneous. In catering/wholesale payment terms of 60 days are not uncommon, which are often at odds with the payment terms butchery businesses own suppliers insist upon. Perhaps testament to the strong relationships built, Alden’s achieves average payment terms of 34 days from their customers.
Today, Matthew presides over a company with a turnover of around £25 million, with roughly an 80/20 split between their catering/wholesale and retail business and over 100 employees. Customers include prestigious accounts such as Oxford and Cambridge universities and the Houses of Parliament, as well as large hotel and hospitality groups such as Youngs Pubs and Radisson Hotels.
‘Giving the customer what they want day in, day out’
According to Matthew ‘giving the customer what they want, day in day out’ is the crux of succeeding in his business but is not without its challenges in wholesale and catering butchery. Working with large, often multi-site customers means working with a number of procurement teams, abiding by numerous regulations and providing consistent high-quality product cut to tight specifications. Maintaining excellent relationships with suppliers throughout the supply chain pays dividends in managing a complex catering focussed business, Matthew says. It helps Aldens to deliver the high standards of customer service and consistency their customers demand and that they have become known for.
Margin, and the need to protect it, is the ‘most critical’ element of business according to Matthew. For any butcher considering venturing into catering or wholesale butchery it’s the most important watchword. Establishing a good mix of customers and avoiding falling into the trap of an over reliance on high turnover but low margin business are Matthew’s wise words of advice.
Having a foot in retail has proved helpful for Aldens when it comes to margin as well as cash flow. Although a smaller part of the company the retail shop delivers regular good margins, as well as a high average basket spend of £41.50. Being out of town the shop operates differently to a high street butchers, with more customers visiting to ‘bulk buy’ their meat, and the vegetables that the shop also sells. With ample parking it’s a busy shop, serving between 1,300-1,400 customers per week.
The people factor
As well as getting the basics of consistent quality product and good prices right, an important part of the ‘story’ of Aldens is its people. It’s important to Matthew that his staff feel connected to the business, to keep the sense of family that has served Aldens well for so long. The so called ‘Aldens Regs’ of ‘respect, enjoyment, growth and service’ make up an unofficial code of conduct that all employees, from the shop floor to the boardroom, strive to meet in their day to day work. And the history of Aldens takes pride of place on a storyboard in their ‘Butchers Kitchen’ – a gathering place for staff and where butchery classes for customers are held.
Investing in staff goes above payment, though pay for all employees is above the Oxford living wage. Lunches are free, profit-sharing options are offered, promotion policy is ‘from within’ and apprenticeships are encouraged. Making sure work is fun is important too,
‘Everyone loves the monthly ‘Pizza Friday’ and we hold a wonderful summer staff punting trip down the River Cherwell.’
In recognition of the role Aldens can play in limiting environmental pollution Alden’s are proud to run Oxfordshire’s first fully electric chilled delivery vans. Soon they will have a fleet of six, delivering daily to their customers in London as well as throughout Oxfordshire. As well as the obvious sustainability kudos this brings it has also saved them thousands of pounds by not having to pay the London and Oxford congestion charges. Not having to regularly re-fuel six vans also save precious time on delivery rounds. What’s more, for Matthew this is ultimately also part of giving customers what they want,
‘At the end of the day all of us, including our customers, want to breathe cleaner air’.