Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop is a family-run business, which, despite its Welsh-sounding name lies just a few miles south of Cambridge. Charles Bradford’s Great Grandfather moved to their farm in 1919; the shop was first formed in the early 1970’s s. He is the current managing director.
Since Charles returned home to the farm in 2005, the business has gone from strength to strength. He said: “Turnover is now up 1089%. We’ve gone from having two members of staff – my dad and my aunty – to now having about 45.”
The business owes part of that success to its commitment to running a rewarding Apprenticeship scheme, based in the shop’s butchery, as Charles explains:
“Our Apprenticeship scheme came about because many local, independent butchers closed and we saw an opportunity. We have a very strong butchery department here as part of the farm shop. Making it even better was about identifying the right sort of people and, as part of their training, offering them Apprenticeships.”
At Gog Magog Hills, existing employees were placed on the Apprenticeship scheme; rather than recruiting new employees, Charles decided to invest in the people he had. Before the Apprenticeships, he’d found it difficult to find candidates with suitable skills:
“Great, well-trained butchers are very, very difficult to find, particularly younger ones. Our butchery team has an average age of 27, which is very young in this marketplace. For us, it was about putting forward individuals who were keen to learn and develop a career. In fact we now put all of our butchers through the Apprenticeship scheme.
“I’d rather get people in, see if they’ve got the right kind of aptitude and then help develop them and use the Apprenticeship as a structured way of giving them something tangible at the end of the day.”
Unlike some SMEs, Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop runs its Apprenticeship scheme through a private training company – Meat Ipswich – rather than through a further education college. The company specialises in food and meat training, making it the perfect choice for a developing butchery team.
Meat Ipswich helped the farm shop to access Apprenticeship grants and provided a solid structure for learning, as Charles recalls:
“Meat Ipswich were quite used to working with small-scale, independent businesses. The plan for the year-long Apprenticeship was theirs – it already existed.”
As an unexpected bonus to the Apprenticeships, Charles’s newly inspired butchers have been extra creative.
“The apprentices all do practical projects as part of their training. What’s been really valuable to us is that a few of these projects have introduced new products to the business. I want the butchers to look back at the Apprenticeships and remember them as fantastic opportunities to enhance and develop their skills. I think if you give people opportunities and keep giving them the opportunities, they’re more likely to stay with you.”
Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop is a fast-growing business and has recently received wide recognition. The butchers’ shop itself was 2012’s runner up in the Butcher Shop of the Year awards. And, in both 2012 and 2013, the shop as a whole has been a runner up in the Observer Food Awards’ ‘Best Independent Food Retailer’ category. But, perhaps the accolade of which Charles is proudest is that achieved by 21-year-old apprentice Jack Archer.
“This year Jack made it to the final of Young Butcher of the Year. He was down to the final three and we all went to the awards ceremony. Although he didn’t win, it’s still fantastic. He’s a nice lad, very approachable, good people person. He’s done the Apprenticeship, been with us three years and had this sensational success. I’m really pleased for him and for the business.”
Charles is dedicated to the idea of seeking new perspectives on his business to keep things fresh and continually broaden his outlook:
“I work with a business coach who knows very little about our line of business but is invaluable in terms of business principles. I’m very open to new thinking – although that person is from a different sector, without question, they can help us. It’s the same with the apprentices – I’m just trying to set them free and open up their eyes to things that are going on outside the business itself – ideas we haven’t thought of before. I think that’s part of our success. We’re not just creating a cookie cutter business – we’re trying to do something different all the time.”