Small Business

Carve your cut of business success

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Meet the man behind Vic’s Meats – find out how Anthony Puharich carved himself a place at the top of Australia’s premium meat business.

Return to retail

The major meat wholesaler – supplying the top end of the market on the home front and internationally – has recently returned to the retail game, taking over Victor Churchill’s on Woollahra’s prestigious Queen Street.

“It’s an amazing story,” says Puharich of the shopfront’s history. “It’s been a butcher shop for 132 years. It’s the oldest continuously run butcher shop in Australia – recessions, wars, it’s just been there forever.”

The store is a visual merchandiser’s paradise – award-worthy window displays, clear glass casings with each product, and features that change each week. Gone is the old-fashioned counter service, and in its place customer service akin to a high-end boutique. There is even a ‘chook cam’ – a series of surveillance cameras trained on a, well, chook. The concept for this unique retail approach was gleaned from Puharich’s travels, having a ‘butchers’ at retail spaces across both countries and industries. Of the chook cam, Puharich explains:

“I was walking in Rome and came across a Louis Vuitton store that had all of their surveillance cameras trained in on this handbag. And it caught my eye. The connotation is whatever’s there is of significant value - really, really important. So we’ve got something that resembles that in the store. As serious as we are about what we do, there’s a little bit of tongue in cheek – from the sausage door handles to the chook cam – we try and keep it pretty casual, pretty fun.”

A rough cut

But the business success of Vic’s Meats was not so easily sliced from the bone.

To start the business and to fall in line with the family trade, Puharich abandoned a career in finance. He and his father – a butcher for more than four decades – originally set up shop on Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street in 1996.

Despite the pair’s efforts, Vic’s Meats in Darlinghurst “failed dismally”.

“We had our back up against the wall after six months,” says Puharich. “We didn’t have the tens of thousands of dollars to be able to do all of the demographics and get it all right, so retail wasn’t right for that area at that time.”

Then, Oxford Street was “door-to-door restaurants” – not prepared to give up their business dream, the pair thought laterally.

“Out of desperation, I started knocking on doors and we started supplying restaurants. We played on the fact that we were their local butcher and tried to buy the sympathy vote. We really believed in quality and service and personal customer service and we just asked them to give us a go and a lot of them did.”

Puharich says the response was overwhelming – but the true turning point was when they secured a supplier’s contract with Level 41.

“Back in those days, it was the biggest thing in Sydney. And we started supplying them and that bought us a lot of credibility. If you mentioned you supplied Level 41 – back in those days – the door stayed half open for you.”

To keep the door open, they had to prove their business worth with premium product. Onto a good cut - “We started making money, which was the main ticker for us”– the business abandoned its retail presence entirely to focus on wholesale, moving to a purpose-built facility in Mascot.

From here, they expanded to supply to other cities –Sydney’s culinary rival Melbourne included.

“We deal with some incredible chefs in some incredible restaurants and that business has just been going from strength to strength,” says Puharich of their Southern-presence.

And, in the international arena, they have a hold in both Shanghai and Singapore.

Puharich puts the business’s export success down to timing.

“In 2007, there was a real buzz about China and this strong, emerging market,” he says, adding there were “a lot of mouths to feed” and after a “bit of networking” the business became a major player.

“We’ve experienced exponential growth,” says Puharich of their business story. “It’s been amazing, it’s been a crazy ride and we’ve rode the crest of this incredible wave. Everyone’s really passionate and excited about food, so it’s been amazing.”

All in the family
Puharich is unsurprised, though by its success.

“It’s been easy to be successful when you’ve got an incredible role model like my father. We butt heads occasionally, but we’re both passionate and we respect what we do. He’s my father, he’s my best friend and he’s my business partner, all wrapped into one.”

To date, Vic’s Meats remains a family business – Puharich says this could not have been possible without the support of their bank, with which they’ve enjoyed a 13-year relationship.

“We’ve had a great time,” he says. “They’ve really shared and supported our vision.”

As for the biggest business lesson learnt, Puharich says it comes down to belief – not just in your business, but yourself.

“Believe in your vision, believe in what you can do. Hard work. Be tenacious. And just keep going.”

Work on your business, not in it. To learn how, book a complimentary business assessment today with a Switzer Business Coach.

Important information:

This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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