A Cut Above
It started with a hamburger.
Scott McGowan's first job at his father's store was grinding hamburger meat. He was 14 then, and his father, Stan McGowan, taught him first-hand the art of butchering.
By age 15, Scott McGowan graduated to sausage stuffing at The Butcher's Block. Two years ago, he purchased the store from his father. He's also the manager, a role he's served in for more than 20 years.
This year, the business turns 50 years old. The Butcher's Block, founded in 1967, has spent the past 40 of those years at a single location on 17th Street in Sarasota. The first 10 years were spent in Sarasota's Siesta Key Village. The business has survived several economic downturns, plus a growing competitive landscape, and is one of a few mom and pop butcher stores left in the Sarasota area.
Stan McGowan moved from Ohio to Sarasota in 1967. For about a year, he worked at Publix as a butcher. But he had moved South with the idea of opening his own butcher shop,. So the Butcher's Block was born.
“It wasn't easy starting from scratch,” Scott McGowan says of his father's early years in the business, when he made friends and built up word of mouth. It continues to be a word-of-mouth business today, the younger McGowan says.
His father still is involved part time, coming into the shop a few times a week to help with things such as selecting wine and selling it to customers. “Customers love to see him,” his son says.
Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lakewood Ranch and North Port residents make up the store's clientele. The bulk of the demographic is people in their 40s to 70s, but McGowan says that's trending younger, toward people in their 20s and 30s. “They're more educated on food and what to cook,” he says. “They want better quality, not quantity.”
People who shop at the store appreciate the customer service and face-to-face interaction, he says. Many shoppers are repeat customers. “Customer loyalty is amazing for us,” McGowan says. “Once people get a taste in their mouth, they come back.”
That loyalty came in particularly handy during the recession. “We had to cut back,” McGowan says of how they let some employees go during the downturn. “Thank God for savings accounts.” His customers cut back, too. “They were buying a $15 bottle of wine instead of a $60 bottle of wine,” he says. “We got through it thanks to customer loyalty.”
Since then, The Butcher's Block has bounced back, and while McGowan declines to disclose revenue, he says earnings are “strong.” And sales are more constant throughout the year now. “There's not as much of a season as there used to be,” he says. That's because more local customers make up his base.
Customers buy meats, cheeses and wines, along with grocery items. The store carries 1,500 wine labels and 50 cheeses from countries worldwide. Bestsellers include rib eye steak, French triple-creme brie and California cabernets.
The personal touch and individualized recommendations from McGowan and the store's five other full-time employees help set The Butcher's Block apart from the competition, which largely comes from Publix. He says that's because of the convenience factor — Publix has stores in a variety of locations as opposed to The Butcher's Block's single spot.
To combat that challenge, McGowan says he's considering starting a home delivery program. Right now, the store uses Uber to deliver food to a dozen or so customers who can't come in to shop. “Some people know exactly what they want, others want help,” McGowan says. “Sometimes I plan a meal for them. If I don't have good service, no matter how good the food is, they won't come back.”