Dicksons is a traditional family pork butcher, which manufactures, supplies and retails locally produced pies, sausage rolls and other popular savouries, bread and buns, bacon, cooked hams, fresh and cooked sausages and other cooked meats, pease pudding , coleslaws and sandwich fillings.
The firm which employs a team of well in excess of 200, has 23 retail shops in busier parts of Tyne, Wear and Northumberland. In recent years, Dicksons products have entered the supermarkets and other major retailers, sports stadia, catering butchers, local department stores and delicatessens throughout the North East, delivering between the Scottish border and Yorkshire.
It is a family business which remains firmly in the hands of the Dicksons family with Michael at the helm as Managing Director, supported by his daughter and Marketing Director Elena, a 3rd generation Dickson.
The Dickson family’s history as a meat purveyor begins in 1830 when Michael Dickson’s great great grandfather was a butcher in Berwick. The present business, started in 1953 when Michael (Irwin) Dickson and his German wife Helen invested their life savings in the venture, which was located from day one in South Shields, a town , like many , then noted for its presence of German-run pork butchers.
Irwin and Helen built a sound reputation as a pork specialist, initially from The Nook, still a busy shopping parade to this day.
Irwin wanted son Michael to go to university. However, tragedy struck for in 1966 Irwin died suddenly. Mother Helen and sister Christine (16) had to continue to run the business:
When not working in the shops, Christine settled invoices, did the books and other administrative work. Michael worked every Saturday and schools holidays, setting the ovens and checking the fridges. He never did get to university, though in 1971 he left St Aidan’s Grammar School in Sunderland with 10 O and 3 A levels.
Misfortune then struck again when Helen fell seriously ill and had to give up her participation. The brother and sister team tried their best to retain the reputation their parents had built. “It was sink or swim: You could stand or fall by your own decisions which weren’t always the best, but nonetheless provided a great learning curve! ,” Dickson recalls.
From 1966 to 1974 the business broke even but without means for ongoing investment. In 1974, their efforts began to pay off when they declared an encouraging profit and by 1981 steady expansion was evident. That year, Michael Dickson became managing director and the first factory was opened, on Rekendyke Industrial Estate, to supply the shops now numbering five. Previously they had all been supplied from the main shop in Fowler Street.
Dickson invested as heavily as he dared during a period when venture capital and borrowing facilities were scarce. By 1992 the company had 12 shops and, borrowing heavily, it built a factory at Middlefields Industrial Estate, its present production centre. It also bought two wholesale supply companies, relocating its production activities, and those of its acquisitions, to one site. In 1999 Dicksons acquired three more independent retail businesses and by 2004 invested £750k in a factory extension, to ease growing congestion.
By 2005 the retail chain had grown to 20 strong and in 2006 the cook / chill area of the Factory was subject to a further £750k investment to facilitate growth in the steadily developing wholesale business
In 2008 the business was rebranded to communicate both the brand’s heritage and its current place in the hot food/ takeaway market. Within 12 months four shops had been fully refitted and 14 had received significant makeovers.
In 2010 the company completed a £1million 5,000 sq ft extension to its bakery, bringing the overall footprint to more than 25,000sq ft. This investment provided them with the capacity to double output
The plan to double production follows a new chapter for the business as supermarket supplier – Dicksons’ products are now available in all the major multiples through local buying initiatives.
At the same time its shops and product ranges have also evolved to communicate its expertise as butcher and baker.
The firm’s product range has changed over decades in line with customer taste, and some items once popular, such as pig’s trotters, pigs cheek and tripe are no longer displayed, whereas some other traditional foods, such as black and white pudding and pease pudding, are enjoying a revival.
Dicksons in to the present
In 2011 Dicksons was named the Coutts UK Family Business of the Year.
Judges of the Coutts awards were impressed by the firm’s strength of family values, and the commitment of Dickson and his directors to keep the business family owned for future generations.
Whilst family values lie at the very heart of the company and indeed Dickson’s management style, resulting in a loyal and long standing workforce, Dickson has enlisted the expertise of in house HR professionals to develop robust training and development programmes to provide real career opportunities for his team.
The family’s strong approach to community involvement and charitable giving is expressed through the Dickson Family Charitable Trust which is run by a Staff Council with input from the Community Foundation
The company, which has been run by two of the founders’ three children, Michael and Christine, before Christine’s death in 2013, has now seen a third generation make its mark on the business. Michael’s daughter Elena, a Food Science Graduate formerly with United Biscuits, has the key role of Marketing Director.
Michael’s other three children sit on the family council, the forum which will, in time, instruct the Board to ensure that family lies at the heart of this business for many more years to come.
Fast forward to 2015 and the future is bright for Dicksons Pork Butchers. With new shops in Whitley Bay, Cramlington and Pelaw, and a growing wholesale arm supplying supermarkets in the North East and beyond, the brand is in a strong position to continue its success for another 60 years.