By Michelle Miller
Executive Director, Gallia County Chamber of Commerce
Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc. owner Guy Guinther, with his wife Brandi and children, Gennah and Tripp, at their Gallipolis retail location on Eastern Avenue.
While Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc. Meat & Seafood Market recently celebrated its one year anniversary, the foundation for the company was built over 10 years ago, in the form of a custom butchering facility in Vinton, Ohio.
But owner Guy Guinther was exposed to the meat marketing industry long before starting the business. It has been a family legacy, of sorts, starting with his grandfather, who operated a base butcher shop, while serving in the Navy, and then later working as a meat marketer for the Kroger Corporation. Guinther’s father also worked for the Kroger Corporation meat department for 20 years and, as a young man, Guinther worked in the meat department for Eastman’s Foodland.
When his grandfather retired in the late 1980s, he started a deer processing business at his home.
“I was around 8-years-old at the time,” said Guinther. “From as long as I could stand on a milk crate and reach the hind quarter of a deer, I was skinning and cutting.”
Despite this, Guinther originally had no plans to enter the meat industry and instead, pursued other career choices. The idea to start Guinther’s Custom Cuts was actually proposed by Guinther’s father, who was facing a possible layoff and looking for a back-up plan. While hesitant at first, Guinther agreed to be a part of the venture. A defunct meat processing plant in Vinton was purchased. Guinther quit his job, to work full-time at the plant. While his father did get laid off, he found a job three weeks later, leaving Guinther, at 23-years-old, in charge of running the fledgling business.
“It kind of worked out,” said Guinther. “He ended up getting a job and I went out and started the business.”
While the production plant, which opened in July 2004, steadily grew over the years and eventually averaged over 300,000 pounds of custom product annually, Guinther, who had learned in the retail meat market industry, was not satisfied with the limitations the butchering industry model placed on him, in terms of marketing directly to the consumers.
“In the butchering industry, you are reliant on others to market your business. It really bothered me. The farmer raises the product and then sells it to someone,” said Guinther. “Then that person had to want to come to my facility and the farmer had to agree with it. It was something that was really hard to market, because it had to go through two people, before it came to me. I couldn’t directly market to the individual. I just had to have trust in that farmer to recommend me and allow them to haul the product to my facility.”
Because he couldn’t market directly to the consumer, Guinther worked to set the company apart in other ways. One of the ways he accomplished this was vacuum sealing meat, instead of wrapping the meat in butcher paper.
“When consumers opened their freezers, I wanted them to be able to see what cuts they were pulling out. In addition, vacuum sealing kept the meat fresher for consumers,” said Guinther.
Guinther continued operating the business solely as a custom butchering facility, until 2007, when he started to notice customers were running out of certain cuts of meat, before they were finished with the whole product they had purchased. To meet this need, Guinther started keeping certain cuts, like hamburger, on hand for consumers to purchase directly. This new venture helped supplement the butchering business, which Guinther said, due to factors outside his control, such as rising beef and corn prices, had started to show a decline over the years.
“It just took off by itself,” said Guinther, who started making custom products, like sausage, and offering a variety of different meats as a retail product. “It really surprised me how far people drove to purchase retail meats.”
It was through the launch of the retail portion at his Vinton location, Guinther seriously considered opening a meat market in Gallipolis.
“Accessibility was the main thing. I always think of myself and how busy I am. I’m a pretty patient guy, but there are a lot of times I won’t go somewhere or do something, just because it consumes too much time,” said Guinther. “Not that it’s not a good product or service, I just don’t physically have time for it. If I was going to successfully operate a retail meat market, I wanted to be more accessible.”
In 2014, he took the leap, rented a building on Eastern Avenue, converted it to fit his needs and opened the Gallipolis location. The foundation Guinther, who officially became president of the company in 2014, built in the butchering facility, segued perfectly into his retail operation. Lessons learned butchering and having his own, fully operational, cutting facility allowed Guinther to offer custom cut services, not always offered by other meat marketers.
“Some people call consumers, who want specific cuts of meat, too picky. Well, I want those people. If they want their cheese sliced paper thin or their steaks two inches thick, we can do that and will be happy to do it,” said Guinther. “I think what sets us apart from anywhere else, we actually have our own cutting facility. We don’t actually butcher the animals. It’s not a local product, but the product we get is of the highest grade available. A lot of places say that, but we actually do it. It’s never the cheapest. We’re not just cutting stuff out of a box. We physically know the make-up of the muscle tissue and how it comes out. We’re not limited to certain cuts. We basically get everything out of a whole beef, a whole hog, a whole lamb.”
As with the butchering facility, Guinther is completely focused on ensuring every product that leaves his store is of the highest grade possible and is consistent with his brand.
“The goal is, if you buy a steak today, then come back two months later to buy another one, you are getting the exact same product,” said Guinther. “A lot of times we’ll be out of products and that’s the reason. We won’t substitute for a lesser grade just to have products in our case. If my name’s going on it, it’s without a doubt in my mind, the best product available.”
Custom butchering is not without its own set of potential problems. When breaking down a carcass, Guinther said a lot goes into planning, to ensure the final product is up to standards, but also profitable.
“The make-up of every carcass is different. You make one messed up cut, you could end up working for free,” said Guinther.
Guinther also understands the final preparation of the meat at home, is as important as the raw products going out the door.
“I have to sell something in the raw form and hope the consumer can prepare it properly,” said Guinther. “Everyone who works at Guinther’s can answer consumer questions about proper preparation of our products.”
Guinther’s consumer focused business model made Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc. Meat and Seafood Market in Gallipolis an immediate success. In its first year, the cutting facility has processed over 175,000 pounds of retail beef and pork products, for its retail location and now employs up to six people at any given time.
That success, however, had unintended consequences for the custom butchering portion of the business, which Guinther closed in December 2015.
“It was physically too much. Shutting that down was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, but there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. Our retail store has basically taken over everything,” said Guinther. “It’s really hard, because we had a lot of customers who did business with us for years. If it was all about my emotions, what I want to do, we’d be out there running full blast with both businesses. The bottom line is, right now, it can’t be done.”
While the plant is now operating solely as a cutting facility for the retail operation, Guinther said he is keeping his licenses current, so if the opportunity to restart custom butchering would present itself again, he could jump right back in.
Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc. Meat and Seafood Market continues to grow, and Guinther is constantly adding new offerings to fulfill the needs of the customers. In addition to pork, beef and chicken products, Guinther’s also launched a seafood section, including sushi. Guinther’s also has a deli section. Consumers can purchase a number of fresh meats, such as hamburger, pork chops, steaks and chicken, or purchase a variety of frozen meats.
“In business, I’m always looking for new, looking for what people are traveling to buy. I get tired of hearing people say something will never work. I hate that mentality. I never really let naysayers affect me,” said Guinther. “I’m not afraid of failing. Whatever the consumer wants, as long as we have the ability to accommodate it, we’ll do whatever possible to make it happen. We’re always looking for new and different offerings to make available for our community, so they don’t have to travel far to get what they want.”
As far as what the future holds, he hopes to grow the retail business to include multiple locations in the future.
“I personally want to thank everyone who has ever supported Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc.,” said Guinther. “You have made this small business a success.”
Guinther’s Custom Cuts, Inc. is located 1280 Eastern Avenue in Gallipolis and is open Monday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (740) 446-4635, follow them on Facebook or visit www.guintherscustomcuts.com for more information.