Unless you're a vegetarian, the smell of a perfectly grilled steak is enough to send your taste buds into overdrive. If your passion for meat transcends the single serving and you've had some experience slaughtering and dressing beef, pork, lamb, chicken and other delicacies, there might be a meat market business in your future. Learning how to butcher meat is a trade best learned at the side of a professional, but you'll probably need some help putting together the business side of your venture. You can learn how to artfully arrange meat in refrigerated cases at the butcher shop with your name written above the door.
Write a meaty business plan. Write down your vision for opening, operating, running, funding and advertising your butcher shop. Learn which competitors are nearby enough to be problems for you and your sales and include supermarkets, small grocery stores, other meat markets, delicatessens and big box stores. Research how they operate, compare the prices each charges set your prices accordingly.
Find suppliers. You may be able to buy directly from farmers if you live in an area that makes direct purchasing the best and most cost-effective option. If you're located in an urban setting, research and compare costs and services of meat wholesalers and distributors. Your margin will increase as a direct result of buying your meat from an intermediary, but distributors can get you cuts of meat that local farmers and ranchers might not be able to offer.
Obtain funding to start-up and maintain your meat market until your business is established, which usually takes at least one year . If personal financing isn't an option, apply for a loan at a bank or credit union, or consider a second mortgage on your home if you have enough equity. A less-desirable funding source -- especially if you want to control every aspect of your meat market -- is to find a partner.
Determine your start-up expenses. If you're opening in a location that previously served as a meat market, freezer and refrigeration cases should already be in place. If starting from the ground up, shop and compare commercial suppliers to obtain essential equpment. Additionally, buy as much insurance as your business broker recommends so you are fully prepared for any type of unforeseen event.
Outfit your meat market and design the space so meat cutting and preparation areas are as spacious and well-appointed as possible. You'll need cutting-block counters, racking units for commercial knives and cleavers, professional meat grinders and either a computer system or a cash register for ringing up sales. If your budget allows, opt for a computer and add software to tally and sort expenses -- this speeds up accounting and bookkeeping tasks.
Contact local health department and government agencies to ascertain the kinds of documentation required to open you business. Apply for these permits and licenses and, if possible, invite a member of the local board of health's inspection staff to tour the premises before you are ready to open. As a newcomer to the business, you may have missed an essential task or piece of equipment that could halt or delay the grand opening of your butcher shop, so take this extra step as a precaution.
Oversee the delivery of your meat products, set up a dating system to keep tabs on when each delivery of meat arrives at your shop and begin preparing cuts of meat to stock your display cases. Have adequate bags, wraps and other supplies on hand to package meat for customers.
Purchase a back-up generator for peace of mind. Power outages are a fact of life and are, at the very least, inconvenient when you're worried about keeping lights on. If your pricey inventory of raw meat depends upon refrigeration 24/7, you probably want to include a generator on your supply list.
Experiment with sales, incentives and marketing programs once you've opened your doors. Decades ago, when meat markets were the norm and supermarkets didn't exist, butchers knew customers' likes and dislikes as well as they knew their own. It wasn't unusual for a butcher to call a customer to inform him that a choice cut just arrived from the supplier and was earmarked just for him. This is exactly the kind of service that separates prime cuts from hamburger.
If the idea of starting a meat market from scratch overwhelms you, a business broker can help you locate an existing meat shop that's available and looking for a buyer in your area. This type of turn-key operation is fairly easy to acquire.
If your plan is to open a kosher meat market, you will need to meet with religious authorities to obtain a detailed blueprint for designing, operating and cleaning this type of shop.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.