Innovative Retailer – Muddy Boots

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The Name: Muddy Boots

The Place: That throbbing metropolitan centre – Crouch End, N8

And? That’s it. Just N8. Don’t worry, it’s going to get bigger. We’re just telling you about it early so you can look smug later when there are lots of them.

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Miranda Ballard, co-founder, Muddy Boots

I didn’t know there was so much demand for wellies and garden wear in the north London area? You are droll. It actually sells meat.

Right, a butcher: Mmmm, not really. It’s all ready done, you can’t ask them to bone a joint of lamb for you.

Ok, like a delicatessen: No, there’s no cheese or processed meats. But you can sit and drink a glass of wine.

Oh for goodness sake, so it’s a wine bar: Let’s just say it’s a retail hybrid shall we? I see I shall have to describe the retail experience you might have in there.

Please do because right now the concept is eluding me: You are a busy affluent professional – try to imagine this. You fancy a steak for your dinner, or some homemade meatballs but you want to buy it local. You waltz into Muddy Boots, you choose your produce and before leaving you also sit down and enjoy a glass of amusing claret fortified with a cheese platter. Or something like that.

Brilliant. Does it really work? Let us never forget two things. Firstly, the internet is mainly used to buy commodity goods, the choosing of our taste-led items we still like to pick out ourselves. And secondly, shops in this country unaccountably still close at around 5-6pm just when people with money to burn are returning home and their thoughts turn to…

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Steak? Yes. It’s a gamble but hey, this is the company that turned down a deal with Tesco so co-founder Miranda Ballard is used to defying conventional wisdom. Are you okay?

Yes, I’m up again now. It’s so funny I thought you said they turned down a deal with the biggest purveyor of meatballs in the whole country [after meatball central, IKEA, of course]. But obviously you didn’t: Yes, I did. Muddy Boots was founded five years ago after Miranda left being Sir David Frost’s PA and her husband left his film job and they lived on a farm in Worcestershire for a bit and sold home-made burgers in farmers’ markets. Then after appearing on a TV show called High Street Dreams in 2010 the dynamic duo were approached by Waitrose and Ocado (who they still supply) who loved what they did. So, at this point they are making ready meals, meatball, burgers, meatloaves all themselves.

Sounds busy: And people who know said, no, no, you want to outsource this, that way you can get really big. So they did for about three years and quite happily sold into 120 Waitrose shops and through Ocado.

Marvellous: And then people who know said, no, no, you want to get in with a really big retailer because it’s all about volume.

Quite right: So Tesco arrived at about the same time as the horsemeat scandal. And suddenly even Muddy Boots sales were down 30% – and their products are made from cows that never even looked at a horse before.

Crikey: That vulnerability coupled with the idea that eventually a supermarket will rip-off your brand, and a general disillusionment that they weren’t making anything anymore led them to say no to the big T but it’s ok because their investors were fine with it.

Oh sweet, investors, like their granny or something? Actually it’s Nick Leslau and Jón Asgeir Jóhannesson. Are you ok?

Yes, I’m up again now. It’s so funny, I thought you said Nick Leslau – property super millionaire and Asgeir Jóhannesson who owned Baugur and supposedly bankrupted Iceland until last week when it was decided he hadn’t after all. But obviously you didn’t: Yes, I did. I told you, it’s only one shop now but it will be big.

Alright, so now you do have my full attention. Let’s talk figures: The shop has only been open for about a month. There’s no marketing so it’s just word of mouth. Sales are growing 20% week-on-week. The shop is open from 8am till 10pm and on Monday and Tuesday they do more business between 5.30 – 7.30pm than in the whole of the rest of the day.

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More than just meat

Aha, so the concept stacks up: They only have 20 covers but they hope that the Crouch End store (half the unit is given over to shop/wine bar and the other half to the kitchen that also makes the goods for Waitrose and Ocado) will be able to supply two more satellite units with produce in due course. And they want to get to 20 shops quite soon, which will probably be near transport hubs on high streets.

Let’s get this straight, they don’t compete with butchers: Definitely not. The master butchers of Crouch End can sleep easy. Muddy Boots competes with supermarkets but that won’t stop them supplying Ocado and Waitrose either. It’s all very amicable.

Online? Ah, interesting. They will shortly be offering a click & collect service with a two-hour turnaround time. So, order your meatloaf at 5pm and it will be ready when you commute home at 7pm. The shop will also be offering cookery classes for adults and children. Currently 70% of sales is take-out and 30% eat-in.

Even free-thinking spirits must have inspiration – who are the gurus for Muddy Boots? The founders describe themselves as devotees of Innocent, Tyrells and Green & Blacks. But really they are branching out into unchartered territory. Muddy Boots was a retail brand – now you wouldn’t know whether to call them a manufacturer, retailer or FMCG brand. Either way early evening closing is so last century. People are ready for this – today Crouch End. Tomorrow…

Muswell Hill? The world.

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