When Bob Beutler opened a locker plant in nearby Otterbein, Ind., in 1953, he gave up a position as a bookkeeper at a packing plant. It was a good decision and he continued his locker operation and grocery store until another business opportunity came along. The then-closed plant where he had toiled over the books and accounts for nearly two years was up for sale, and in 1969 he bought it.
“It was a pretty large plant [12,000 sq. ft.] that dated back to 1900,” Bob recalls. “It was right across the street from the old Lafayette stockyards. I was impressed that so many of the butchers and meat cutters who had worked there wrote their names on the brick walls outside the plant.”
Indeed, those still-visible signatures date from the 1920’s, through World War II and throughout the development of modern America. Who says walls don’t talk?
Passing on a legacy
The legacy Bob started has been passed on to his son, Steve, who bought the business a quarter-century ago, and grandson, Bradley, now a junior at nearby Purdue Univ. Bradley is studying business and has a zeal for being a key third-generation player at the plant.
In an era when middle-size packing plants and hundreds of custom facilities have virtually disappeared from the state, the Beutler operation stands as an example of what diligence and superior customer service can create.
Steve Beutler is the president of the 16-employee company, while his wife, Barbara, handles the accounting and ordering responsibilities and also works as the HACCP coordinator for the operation. The Beutlers treat their loyal employees like family, attests Mary Stratton, a 23-year former meat wrapper and front-desk staffer.
The firm operates under Indiana state meat inspection. Currently, the firm is about 75 percent custom in volume and has grown its retail sales to around 10 percent. Catering is a rapidly-growing source of revenue and has evolved from being an incidental part of the business. A telling point is that a few years ago, the firm changed its original name from Beutler Meat Processing to one in which the catering aspect gets top billing.
“The way you treat people is a critical thing,” Steve says. “When we hire anyone, we value their people skills and loyalty over experience. New hires may have to work a variety of hours and we want to maintain our strong reputation for quality and caring.”
It is rare to find a meat business that offers home-style quality grading of beef carcasses for custom clients, as well as yield grading, but Beutler’s does it with a flourish. Customers are provided with a report on each carcass that covers details on adjusted fat thickness, percentages of kidney-pelvic-heart fat, ribeye area in square inches and quality grade with maturity and dressing percentage included.
Steve, who started working at the business at the age of 14 and throughout his high school years, notes that in 1976 the company processed a record-high 3,117 cattle, 1,098 hogs and 183 lambs, compared to just 1,167, 1,000 and 69 for each species, respectively, in 2009.
“Yet, despite the lower numbers, we produced more tonnage than in that banner year because of the change in animal-raising patterns,” he explains.
Founder Bob says he amassed a lot of good recipes for products from butchers who have worked there over the years and today the business makes more than 50 types of sausage. Many of the sausage varieties have earned the company more than 200 awards in meat and cured product competitions held by the Indiana Meat Packers & Processors Association and the former Great Lakes Regional contests that included entries from a number of states. Old awards aside, the firm took the championship award for its braunschweiger at the 2010 IMPPA cured meats competition. Steve has served two terms as president of IMPPA. The firm is also a staunch supporter of the animal-science programs at Purdue, with special emphasis on the small-business sector. Over the years, Steve has helped with instructional programs at the university, and also conducted practicum sessions at the plant. The company is strong in its support of 4-H programs and gets rewarded with processing animals from three major area fairs.
The family believes that giving customers good products, service and value helps keep them “recession-proof,” and their beliefs about doing it right the first time play out in doing things meticulously, especially in areas like sanitation and work ethics.
Employee loyalty is strongly recruited, but it is also strongly rewarded. Beutler’s is not able to offer workers health benefits, but does provide a 100 percent company-paid pension program.
For many years, the firm did a thriving business in deer processing, but made a decision to forego it a decade ago and concentrate on its catering opportunities. As their Web site,www.beutlermeat.com, outlines, the company’s catering options are attractive and easy to follow. The site was designed a little more than two years ago by a company employee. It includes links to the world’s largest collection of pork recipes, as well as links for beef and chicken recipes.
The catering section offers nine different meat selections at $12.95 per person and a choice of six others for $10.95 per meal. They include all the salads, sides, desserts, beverages, plates and utensils. Customers are free to determine whether they want to pick up the prepared items or have them delivered and set up.
Customers wanting to pick up their orders can also purchase pans and lids for $2.39. The family says that after 10 years into catering, they are “getting a better feel for it” and are working about 25 events a year, ranging from 40 to 500 persons.
Spreading the word
Promotion isn’t left to the newspapers. They like to build fun and excitement into their marketing and
recently hooked up with a radio station that spins a “Wheel of Meat” two or three days a week. Listeners can win anything from brats, a slab of ribs, snack sticks, ground beef or even a smoked bone for the dog. “This has been tremendous for us,” Steve recounts. “These are live broadcasts and when winners come into pick up the meats we’ve donated as prizes, they are amazed at the other products and services we have available. These winners become customers.
“One day they did a live broadcast for the ‘Wheel of Meat’ at our plant and the road coming into our plant parking lot was just clogged with cars and trucks. We held an open house that day. It’s been a wonderful thing for us to get that kind of exposure for so little effort and expense.”
The retail area is very small by most standards, little more than a small room with meat products on display in cases on the two side walls. Yet, the quality and variety is astounding. Few other companies offer a breaded, pork-loin fritter, ready for the frying pan. The Beutlers say their best products are the bacons and brats and their ground chuck is far above average.
Custom meats are freezerwrapped in poly plastic and butcher paper and vacuum wrapping is an option.
Beef is source-verified and aged 14 days and the firm has customers bringing in their own animals for processing from a radius of 100 miles. Meat-gift boxes, meat and cheese platters and whole or half roasting pigs are available.
Being an older facility, the plant has an elevator-accessible second level that is used for cooked product storage. An enclosed garage and dock area is a boon for catering pick ups and deliveries and also provides additional storage.
The processing room was recently remodeled with stainless-steel clad tabletops and the catering kitchen would be the envy of any plant. Two Southern Pride smokers let you know they are geared to handle even the larger catering events.
Steve is almost giddy about telling his story, but it’s not about the dollarside of what is a thriving business:
“It’s about seeing employees who are like family. It’s about having customers who come in and buy something with your name on it and are enjoying it enough to keep coming back. We have been very blessed and there is a great satisfaction in coming to work each day and seeing a successful family-owned business just keep working together and getting better.”
There is something about the Beutler company that helps define the spirit of small meat-processor operations in the US. The signatures on the outside wall may well be part of the plant history, but the Beutler family has never stopped growing its legacy. They are making their own signatures on the inside.
Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat&Poultry, specializing in small business issues. He resides in Marietta, Pa.