Tom Martin has always had a love of food so when a pie company came up for sale, it was the perfect opportunity. He spoke to Ismail Mulla.
It’s not often that people leave behind the seemingly sterile profession of IT to run their own pork pie manufacturing businesses.
But then again, not everyone has the same passion for food as Tom Martin does. The owner of Eric Richmond Pies says his love affair with food started from an early age.
“Some of my earliest memories are of going shopping with my father to Leeds Market when I was three or four years old and sampling the various delights,” says Mr Martin.
Father and son would walk up and down the market, purchasing pheasants, hares and other game products, while eating cockles out of newspaper. They would then come home and skin the game and make pies.
So three years ago, when Mr Martin’s son had made it into university he decided to pursue his passion.
“It seemed to make sense to do something that I was really passionate about,” Mr Martin says. “Hence the move from IT to food.”
The IT expert and his wife Anne-Marie explored the possibility of starting a business from scratch but found that family-run Eric Richmond was up for sale.
The Ossett-based business was set up by a former World War II Lancaster bomber pilot called Eric Richmond back in 1945.
Mr Martin said: “He was a very interesting character. The youngest Lancaster bomber pilot during World War II.
“But he came back and set up a butcher’s shop in the town square in Ossett. It developed from one shop. He built an empire of a number of shops. At one time he actually bred his own pigs.”
As Mr Richmond came towards retirement age, he handed the retail shops to his younger son, Michael, while Robin, his elder son, inherited the factory and wholesale operation of the business. When Robin Richmond himself decided to retire he sold the factory to Mr Martin.
Over the past 72 years Eric Richmond has established itself across South and West Yorkshire but Mr Martin is keen to expand the firm’s footprint.
“We’re trying to expand beyond those geographic boundaries,” said Mr Martin.
He added: “We are starting to look at developing new markets both North of Leeds, where we have very little presence so far, and down south into Lincolnshire, across towards Hull. So we’re moving out gradually from our heartland.”
Yorkshire provenance plays a part in attracting customers to Eric Richmond, which supplies its products to farm shops, butchers and delicatessens. The business puts an emphasis on sourcing ingredients from the region whenever possible.
Mr Martin said: “The Yorkshire food brand is starting to be recognised worldwide. There’s some real success stories, some real quality products being produced across the county.”
Earlier this year, Mr Martin was elected president of the Confederation of Yorkshire Butchers Councils’.
“It basically represents the interests of meat and food traders,” says Mr Martin. “It’s an association of independent butcher’s shops, market stall holders, people who are selling meat.”
The organisation feeds back to the Government on legislation and oversight issues. It also looks at how independent traders can work more closely together.
“I hope to further strengthen the position of high street butchers across Yorkshire,” said Mr Martin.
While there may have been a decline in independent high street butcher shops, their role is now being taken on more by farm shops and delicatessens, according to Mr Martin.
He said: “I think consumer habits are changing. The sort of meal and the way it’s eaten is changing.
“There’s far fewer big Sunday roasts for instance being sold through butcher shops. Far more partly prepared or ready made meals, where people are coming in and purchasing for that night’s meal.
“It’s smaller more frequent shops that I think we’re seeing. I have confidence that actually if the consumer is given that choice at the right time in the right place, there’s a very strong future for independent meat retailers, pie selling and the like.”
Before his foray into food, Mr Martin spent nearly three decades in IT. He worked at ICL before it became Fujitsu in Wakefield. He also played a role in building the first online bank for First Direct.
“Back in those days, many people don’t realise, the biggest challenge was the bandwidth for transferring the information,” Mr Martin said. “There was a lot of dial-up modems and of course you could put very little graphics down that.”
Presenting the image the bank wanted with the limitations of the still nascent technology was “challenging” but “we had lots of fun”, says Mr Martin.
So does he have any regrets hanging up the white collar for white butcher’s overalls?
“I had some great times, some great friends, did some great things,” says Mr Martin, after a thoughtful pause. “If I had my time over again I would want to do all those things.”
He added: “In terms of regrets? No, I’m loving what I’m doing and I want to carry on doing this for a good few years to come.”
Just as the love of food was a common bond between Tom Martin and his father, the same is proving the case between him and his own son, Alexander, who has joined the family business.
“It was his decision. He wasn’t pushed or forced into the family business,” Mr Martin laughs.“The plan is that for the foreseeable future we will continue to grow, increase our geographic coverage and he’ll take it on to be the next generation of running what is now a 72-year-old family business.”
Tom Martin Factfile
Title: Managing director
Date of birth: August 28, 1960
Lives: Whitkirk, Leeds
Favourite holiday destination: Hayman Island, Australia
Last book read: Dunkirk
Favourite film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Favourite song: Layla by Derek and The Dominoes
Car driven: Ford Connect Van, I sold the Range Rover to buy the business three years ago and haven’t got round to replacing it yet
Most proud of: My dad – who is a 94-year-old, ex-marine commando who inspired my passion for food
Education: Temple Newsam Halton County Primary Infants & Juniors and Temple Moor Grammar School