Co Ar­magh se­rial en­tre­pre­neur’s rapid jour­ney from a butcher boy to bar­ber­shop boss

This week we meet a sharp-minded Por­ta­d­own butcher and bar­ber, Fyffes’ sale gets the green light, a re­tail gi­ant plans new look and Craic Foods is born

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Business Telegraph Food And Drink - BY RACHEL MARTIN

Butch­ers and bar­bers might not seem to have much in com­mon, but one Co Ar­magh en­tre­pre­neur has man­aged to make his name in both.

Por­ta­d­own ‘ hip­ster butcher’ Dwaine Smyth (32) launched the Meat Cleaver along­side his brother Garry, who’s 34.

Just last week, the pair opened a re­vamped, £60,000 store on Ar­magh Road in Por­ta­d­own. The re­fit in­cluded a Hi­malayan salt cham­ber and ma­jor de­sign over­haul.

And Dwaine has also ven­tured into the world of 1920s style bar­ber­shops. The chain has grown rapidly and has al­ready won the back­ing of Boy­zone star Shane Lynch af­terer start­ing three years ago. “It doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re cut­ting hair or meat — the fun­da­men­tal of busi­ness is still the same,” Dwaine said.

“It’s all about of­fer­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent and giv­ing peo­ple great ser­vice,” Dwaine added.

“It sounds like a cliche, but cus­tomers are the ones who pay the wages so you’ve got to make sure they all leave happy and want to come back.”

The Elk & Clip­per is mod­elled on a pro­hi­bi­tion-era gen­tle­man’s club of­fer­ing beer, whiskey, shaves and live mu­sic as cus­tomers get their hair cut.

Dwaine co-founded Elk & Clip­per with friend Michael Dowall three years ago and the chain al­ready has four North­ern Ire­land branches in Por­ta­d­own, Ban­bridge, Lur­gan and Ar­magh. Last year Boy­zone singer Shane Lynch backed the pair to open four bar­ber­shops on the east coast of the USA. The £1.1m bar­ber­shop project will see them take the brand to Bos­ton, New Hamp­shire, Con­necti­cut and Rhode Is­land be­fore try­ing to roll out more fran­chises across the coun­try. The brand has also launched its own range of hair prod­ucts and beard oils. But the Meat Cleaver is un­likely to ever spread in­ter­na­tion­ally. “It’s harder to ex­pand in the same way,” Dwaine said. “You’ve got to do a lot of the work your­self and there’s a lot of back­ground work to run it.”

The broth­ers launched the busi­ness com­bin­ing Garry’s ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in butch­ery along with Dwaine’s mar­ket­ing know how. Their mother re-mort­gaged part of her home to help the boys start the busi­ness and the pair launched the Meat Cleaver in 2011 with just £25,000 of cap­i­tal.

“It’s a tra­di­tional in­dus­try — when we started there must have been at least 25 peo­ple who told us we were mak­ing a mis­take and were en­ter­ing into a dy­ing in­dus­try,” added Dwaine.

“But it’s like every in­dus­try — you’ve older ones who have served their time and are start­ing to re­tire but that doesn’t mean it’s

not go­ing to work. We begged, bor­rowed and stole to start with.

“We went around clos­ing butch­ers and asked them if we could bor­row or buy their equip­ment — that was the only way we could get started — ev­ery­thing was se­cond-hand.

“We re­alised we looked the same as any other butcher’s shop but we wanted to dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves so the way we could do that was through our mar­ket­ing. We have a lot of fun in the shop and we just let that come across in how we han­dle mar­ket­ing — it’s just us be­ing our­selves.

“There’s a mas­sive in­ter­est in traceability at the mo­ment — we find a lot of cus­tomers will ask us where the meat comes from and some­times what breed it is — which I love, be­cause it shows just how in­ter­ested peo­ple are in lo­cal food.

“We have tried to source ev­ery­thing as lo­cally as pos­si­ble — my brother’s fa­ther-in-law, who has a small farm in Lough­gall, pro­vides the red meat, Rich- hill farmer Mau­rice Robin­son pro­vides us with our lamb and Wil­liam Spratt in Por­ta­d­own pro­duces our pork.

“I like to see my­self as a mini-dis­rup­tor. I’ve a mil­lion and one ideas I’ll write down but only a few will come into fruition. I like to think about tra­di­tional in­dus­tries and how I can change things in them and make it dif­fer­ent.

“It didn’t mat­ter what I was go­ing to do, I knew I was go­ing to be self-em­ployed. I al­ways wanted to cut my own cloth.”

Dwaine Smyth founded the Meat Cleaver in 2011

Broth­ers Dwaine and Garry Smyth say friends warned them off start­ing a butcher’s shop

Bar­ber Nathan Ker­rin gives a customer a trim at the Elk & Clip­per branch in the Out­let, Ban­bridge

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