A highly traditional but thriving butcher’s shop pulls in loyal customers from far and wide, thanks to the owner’s passion for meat, skills as a chef and shrewd business acumen

It's not been a good time for the traditional family butcher of late. Many have fallen by the wayside thanks to the supermarket juggernauts. So what better time to pay a visit to, and celebrate, a butcher who is traditional in every sense yet appears to be bucking the downward trend affecting his brethren?

The establishment in question is Robin Jenkins on the Bath Road in Cheltenham. The only thing that appears to have changed at the shop since it was founded in the 19th century is its name. Tradition has it that the shop always bears the name of the incumbent owner so, yes, you've guessed it, the current butcher is the eponymous Robin Jenkins. To say that he's passionate about meat would be an understatement. Jenkins is a "youthful" 65-year-old and doesn't anticipate handing on the boning knife any day soon. What makes this industry stalwart such a great butcher is his food training background.

Robin Jenkins
Store owners: Robin Jenkins (pictured)
Staff: 4
When Jenkins left school he trained as a chef, working at premier restaurants and hotels in Gloucestershire. Food particularly meat became his passion, but the hours were awful, so he turned his attention to butchery and after a rigorous college course joined the Baxters Group, which became part of Dewhurst. Around this time Jenkins found the shop of his dreams, then called Reg Pitt Butchers.

After taking the reins, the first thing he changed was, well, nothing. If Jenkins had followed the trends of the time he would have installed the aluminum and plastic suspended ceiling, the self-service counter and the styro-foam trays. Luckily he resisted and the shop looks like a good butcher's shop should look, with a high ceiling, traditional tiling and meat rails. But like all good heritage sites, behind the façade the shop hides sophisticated refrigeration and meat preparation equipment and electronic money management.

This could, of course, fit the description of many butchers' shops that have failed, so what's the secret of Robin Jenkins' success? First and foremost it's his uncompromising attitude to the quality of the meat he stocks. It is all meticulously sourced and his "lads", as he calls his employees, have been trained in the arcane arts of selecting and butchering game. The next major advantage he has is his skill as a chef.

Pick any cut of meat, however unusual, and Jenkins can arm you with a delicious recipe and cooking tips. Watching him at work you quickly realise that another one of his major skills is the ability to sell he loves his customers and delights in their enjoyment of his beautiful cuts of meat. But he's a canny operator. If you buy a turkey you won't escape without a couple of kilos of homemade chipolatas to complement it order local cured bacon and you will be offered golden-yolked farm eggs.

This isn't really just a story about a shop, however, it's about a street. I've spoken to groups of independent retailers on many occasions and they believe any change for the better is more effective when done with a group. In Jenkins' case, the shops on Bath Road have formed the Bath Road Traders Association, which is masterminded by Matthew Birch, the landlord of local pub The Brown Jug. The association promotes the whole street, with its approach summed up rather neatly by a board advertising 'Sausage and mash made with Robin's sausages' outside the pub.

Jenkins' business thrives despite his nearest competitor being a mere faggot's throw away. Asked if the rival steals trade, Jenkins replies that when his predecessor shut up shop for four weeks, trade at the butcher opposite fell. Jenkins' offer is slightly different and this is what gives Jenkins the edge as he puts it he can provide "two thick chops and one thin one".

The shop used to sell cakes and pastries but the recent healthy-eating drive saw sales dwindle. But despite the odd failure there have been numerous successes. His surprise big seller has been game particularly venison and his fresh-lay egg business has grown 400%.

Does Jenkins do anything wrong? The signage is a bit eccentric. On one chiller cabinet is a neat handwritten sign advertising fresh rabbit and Cotswold pheasants the only problem is that it clearly contains large hams and legs of lamb. And some people might describe the shop as too old-fashioned but that is probably what appeals to the army of customers that flock to it from all over Gloucestershire.

His customers are incredibly loyal, as exemplified by a wall of photographs. Some time ago he decided to create a cloth 'bag for life', and within a few weeks a customer in the military sent a photograph of himself surrounded by sand dunes victoriously holding up a Robin Jenkins bag. Soon a photo taken at the bottom of the ocean arrived and before long he'd built up a collection of photos of his bags in locations dotted across the world. That's the sort of loyalty other retailers can only dream of.

- Learn to upsell. It can multiply your profits over and over
- Work together with other independents even if they appear to be competitors. The success of the Bath Road Traders Association demonstrates that strength in numbers can often make up for a lack of individual scale
- Even if you are a traditional retailer, using state-of-the-art technology can benefit the business just keep it hidden
-Be ready to change your offer to suit changes in your customers' tastes. Jenkins offers a variety of rare cuts and meats including rabbit and pheasant