Not every retailer strives to instill the tenets of exceptional hospitality into their operations. The Meat House is one company that does. Perhaps that is why the company has grown from its debut in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2003 to more than 30 stores in 11 states, and even more on the way.

“We started out trying to bring a level of customer service to a retail setting that you’d find in a restaurant,” co-founder and CEO Justin Rosberg says. “Yes, our origins are as a butcher shop, but we’ve always operated with a mindset of offering unrivaled hospitality that you can’t find in other places.”

The Meat House, a modern revival of the neighborhood butcher and grocer, is a series of locally owned butcher shops that offer expertly butchered premium meats hand cut to order. Products include beef, poultry, veal, lamb, pork, as well as day boat fresh fish, artisan cheese, fresh produce, homemade prepared meals, Boar’s Head Deli products, fresh sandwiches, desserts and pastries and other gourmet grocery items.

The Meat House offers a selection of wines from around the world and craft beer. With a local focus, about 35 percent of items sold are made, raised or produced in each local market. The company’s mission is to provide genuine hospitality to every customer in every store every day.

The Three Cs

The Meat House operates with a model of some corporate owned stores and many franchise operations. Rosberg says The Meat House chooses its franchise partners based on an approach he called “the three Cs.”

“We look for character, commitment and capability,” he explains. “We want to align ourselves with brand partners who are committed to the success of our brand, are passionate about the community in which they operate, have the capability to run the business to our high standards and can oversee the balance sheet and maintain profitability.”

Although the company’s locations can vary from place to place in terms of the merchandise mix, The Meat House has a central branding concept at its core that ensures cohesion across the company’s footprint. Rosberg says the key to building The Meat House brand starts with the people in the stores, all of whom are the kind of folks who enjoy helping customers.

“That is the foundational piece,” Rosberg says. “As for the physical side of things, the consistency is there, and then we have to inspect what we expect. We have secret shopper programs and a visitation and inspection schedule. We also use internal online forums to share best practices and develop new ideas, and not just from the top down.”

Willing to Change

From a product perspective, The Meat House continues to live up to its name and perform the function of a neighborhood butcher shop. Customers can expect to find an array of meats, poultry and marinated product when stepping into The Meat House. But the organization has evolved steadily over the past decade.

The company recognized the need to adapt almost immediately after opening its first location.  Customers told the company it needed to add some produce offerings and a wider variety of sauces, and The Meat House responded. That willingness to engage in a continuing dialogue with customers has driven The Meat House’s evolution.

“Over the last 24 months, we’ve integrated fresh fish cases into our newer models, as well as kitchens to make prepared meals,” Rosberg says.

The Meat House has also adapted to longer-term evolutions in the market as consumer demands have changed. More people are interested in products that are, for example, all-natural, organic, grass-fed, or locally produced.

Integrating a full kitchen into all new Meat Houses has allowed increased product flexibility, consistently changing items and the ability to match consumer tastes and needs.

For locations that have been in existence for some time, The Meat House doesn’t force them into changes they don’t need or want. Instead, it seeks to educate them about the opportunities should they choose to invest in change.

“If we are going to go back to franchisees and ask them to justify an equipment change, we have to justify the ROI,” Rosberg says. “That is why IT is a big thing for us, because we must have the ability to gather data, analyze it and make the best recommendations possible out into the field.”

Relationships Rule

Fortunately, The Meat House has been able to rely on the relationships it has built with vendors on local and national levels. Sysco serves as the company’s mainline distributor, and the company has relationships with larger, regional grocery players in each of its markets.

“We are also trying to get up to 40 to 50 percent of our products produced locally,” Rosberg says.

The Meat House is well aware of the changing face of retail, which is why it also sees the need for an online facelift and to enhance its online presence. Online ordering is becoming an important part of its offering, but The Meat House is a fresh, never-frozen type of entity. The company plans to spend the next 24 months looking for opportunities to create regional hubs where it will be able to ship fresh product via land on a next-day basis.

In the years to come, The Meat House plans to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers while it looks for revenue extension opportunities, such as corporate and social catering. The company believes it can open 10 to 15 stores per year over the next few years, and it sees the Mid-Atlantic region in New Jersey, northern Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania as fertile ground.

“It is very important for us to have an understanding of where consumer trends are heading, and we must be as synergistic with our franchisees as possible,” Rosberg says. “We have a strong belief that we must give in order to get, so we are active in the communities where we operate.”

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