After more than a decade helping her father run the family’s abattoir and butchers on Swansea Market, Cath Butler talks to BQ about officially taking the reins as the owner of the company.
When the careers advice is being given out in Welsh schools working in agriculture will always be an option - but Cath Butler has taken that idea much further than any of her classmates.
She has just taken over Hugh Phillips Butchers - her dad's stall on Swansea market, which dates back to 1878 - along with the family's abbatoir. The handover was marked by her winning Food Standards Agency approval, meaning that she can now throw away her provisional licence.
Cath, 32, is aware that this may well make her unique as a female butcher AND abbatoir owner, but she has worked on the stall since she could see over the counter, so she is well used to operating in a male-dominated sector.
She told BQ: "I grew up here and was always working in the business, and it was inevitable that I would take it on, so I think that helped in that my new role didn’t come as a surprise to the men who work here."
"If I was just an office girl then took on this job, that might have been different but because I have always been here working alongside them, there was already respect from them and I understand the dynamics of working together with men. I went to a mart recently and was the only woman bidding but there are women out there in this industry -I bought from a woman farmer just the other day, and I try to find male and female staff who come from farming backgrounds because that tends to mean they are well placed to understand this business."
There is always a strong emotional attachment to taking on a family business, and for Cath it was a natural decision to carry on the work she had been doing.
"I’ve helped my father out since I was about six, when I used to stand on a crate to help dice meat. As soon as I was old enough I was allowed to help out on the market stall. I achieved my slaughtering licence in 2008 but was working in the abattoir well before that as a labourer.
"I officially took on the company on Sept 5 2016. My sister Liz worked in the business for a while but when it came to purchasing the business I stepped forward. I’ve always wanted to carry it on and always helped dad with building the business so taking it on when he retired was the natural next step. Helping him out for so many years mean that taking the business on was not too much of a steep learning curve.
"I was already managing the staff because that was part of my role prior to taking over, so that aspect of being in charge came easily. Now things have settled down and everything is approved and signed, reality is hitting, as I have to deal with day to day challenges in the role of boss.
"The challenging part was changing the name on everything down to the telephone bill! I didn’t realise how long that would be and to be re-approved took three months."
Taking over any business is also an opportunity to move it forward with some fresh thinking to take it into uncharted, but exciting new areas. Running an abbatoir may seem limited, but not for Cath.
"I think it’s very important that we invest in this side of the business," she says.
"The sales on the market stall haven’t grown in a few years which tells me the customers we need are in work in the daytime so for the convenience side of things - for them to be able to order it online and have it delivered to their homes, I’m hoping we will see good sales.
"We also have a PR team and web designer behind us, so we are aiming to spread the word not only locally but also across the UK and significantly expand our customer base.
"This is very much an experiment at present: we don’t know how much it will help the company grow, but we’ve researched other businesses offering similar services and we feel we can compete with them, and that we have something special to offer in terms of the product and the service.
"I’ve spent a modest amount of money to give it a go, investing in things like the website and the environmentally friendly packaging. If it doesn’t work it won’t cripple us but if it does, we can reinvest in it and grow it further.
"If the internet sales go well then we will look to relocate and open up a farm shop, from which the orders will be dispatched and we will be able to sell to the local area as well. I’m not willing to venture into it until until the figures show that it is financially viable. There is a lot of produce from Gower that could be sold in one place and dispatched at the same time, so this would seem to be the natural next step if the mail order business takes off."
Such optimistic forward-planning has also attracted some high-profile Welsh support, with Welsh legend Non Evans MBE, the only female to have competed at three different disciplines at the Commonwealth Games, and David Todd, Wales Strongest Man under 80kg - and one of Cath's butchers, both agreeing to endorse Cath's products and act as public faces for the business.
The right skills, a business with great potential and celebrity endorsements - Cath certainly 'meats' all the requirements of a BQ entrepreneur!