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Disadvantages Of The Retail Meat Business

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

While the meat retailer enjoys some especially fine advantages in his business, there are, of course, disadvantages. These are:

1. Dealing in perishable products.

2. Long working hours.

3. Irregularity in selling hours and days.

4. Lack of standardized product and cutting methods.

Dealing in Perishable Products

The handling of perishable products is always considered a disadvantage in any trade, because there are periods when certain products do not move rapidly and have to be sacrificed at a lower price. This disadvantage exists to a limited extent in the retail meat business, especially with such products as poultry, where frequently, a dealer may exercise poor judgment and over-buy and then is forced to sell his product at no profit or at a loss. As a rule, however, the retailer is familiar with the buying habits of his trade and is in a position to know and buy such cuts of beef and other meats his trade demands. Therefore, this disadvantage is most apparent when applied to the sale of poultry during the holiday season.

Long Working Hours

To the old time butcher, who used to rise at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning and work until 9 and 10 o'clock at night, the present day working hours in the retail meat industry may not seem long. Comparison, however, should not be made as to what the old time butcher used to do, but rather to compare the working hours in the retail meat industry with those of other lines and trades such as carpenters, painters, iron workers, office workers, clerks in other retail shops, barber shops, and department stores.

As can be seen by tables published in the chapter on "Wages and Systems of Payments," giving the working conditions throughout the United States, the average hours in the retail meat business seem to be from 7 a. m. to 6 p. m. There are, of course, some cities where markets do not open until 8 a. m. and there are a few stores which do not close until 10 and 11 p. m. and some even at a later hour. In a succeeding chapter devoted to "Working Conditions" will be found more detailed information on this subject. It must be conceded, however, that in general working hours in the retail meat business are longer than the hours in many other industries.

Irregularity in Selling Hours and Days

The great majority of meat retailers find that the buying habits of the public in general are such that the buying hours during the week sometimes put a great strain on the retailer because of their irregularity. This, of course, has an influence upon the labor problem of the retailer.

The majority of meat markets do from 33% to 60% of their weekly volume of business on Saturday. While during the week one man may be able to serve the trade in most stores, on Saturdays three or more men are required, and extra help is usually engaged. This type of help is frequently not very desirable. The same principle applies to the average week day. Monday is usually a slow day. Then business begins to pick up again until Friday, which is usually a very slow day in the majority of markets.

Many retailers, however, try to encourage buying on Friday by holding special sales so as to relieve the rush during Saturday. They do this by advertising or running specials on Friday to offset the Saturday rush. In certain markets, this big volume of Saturday business is especially noticeable, as they do a Saturday business amounting to 60% and even 66% of their entire weekly sales. While they require only three men during the week, seven extra men are needed for the Saturday business.

This condition, however, is one of the minor disadvantages that the meat retailer has to contend with, and could be removed if the percentage of sales could be distributed on a more even basis throughout the week. How some retailers are trying to overcome this variation in buying hours and days is further illustrated in the chapter on "Advertising."

Lack of Standardized Products and Methods of Cutting

The practical meat man knows that there are no two sides of beef which are exactly alike. While the grade of a carcass may be uniform, there will always be a slight variation in finish, conformation and weight. For that reason, the meat retailer is at a decided disadvantage in not having a standardized product. This lack of standardization of product is especially noticeable when the retailer tries to establish correct cost and selling prices. When a dry-goods or a hardware merchant buys a number of articles of a certain product, he usually knows exactly what these products have cost him, and he can establish a selling price accordingly. In the retail meat business this becomes a more difficult matter, since the meat retailer does not handle carcasses of an absolutely uniform grade and weight. This is made still more difficult at certain times of the year when there is a great difference in the finish, quality and conformation of cattle, lambs and veal.

Cutting Tests Required

In order to establish correct costs and selling prices, the retailer finds that it will be necessary to make very frequent cutting tests, as this is the only method whereby he can establish such figures. Making cutting tests requires time, but to make them periodically is an absolute necessity in the modern retail business. Investigations have proved that very few retailers will take the time to make periodical cutting tests, hence they are ignorant of the exact facts pertaining to the product they handle and what it should sell for in order to bring a fair profit.

If the retailer could handle a standardized meat product, and if each carcass were of uniform weight, quality and conformation, it would be very simple to establish standard cutting practices and standard costs on the product handled. This would eliminate ignorant competition, price cutting, and other evils in the industry. The very fact that the retailer must handle such unstandardized products must be considered a decided disadvantage in the industry.

No Standard Cutting Method

Another disadvantage is the absence of a standardized cutting method. Practically every locality in the United States and the majority of individual retailers have their own particular method and style of cutting up a carcass, especially beef, which is just a little different from that of the other retailers.

For the apprentice who wants to learn the retail meat business, this is, of course, a great disadvantage. The absence of standardization in meat cutting in conjunction with an unstandardized product, makes it extremely difficult to present cutting tests that would be of universal benefit to the meat retailer. A standardized cutting method which every retailer could use in making his tests would be of great help to the industry in general.

Another disadvantage in the retail meat industry has been the absence of any standards in grades of beef, lamb, veal or pork. This subject is covered thoroughly in the chapter dealing with "Meats and Meat Grading."

It will be noted that the retail meat industry has a great many advantages over other industries and that the disadvantages are not as prominent as the many advantages enjoyed by the American meat retailer.

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