A day in the life… with David Anderson, Head of People at Rough Trade
In this interview, we talk to David Anderson, Head of People at Rough Trade to find out more about his role.
Rough Trade, founded in 1976 by Geoff Travis, is a distinguished music retailer rooted in London and known for its independent and experimental music. The company has grown into a global phenomenon with locations worldwide, offering a carefully curated selection of quality music on vinyl as well as a busy programme of unique in-store events.
David shares insights into his vibrant retail career and the challenges and initiatives shaping his role. From managing HR strategy during the company’s expansion to fostering a unique culture, David provides a glimpse into the dynamic world of Rough Trade. Find out how David navigates the hybrid work model and maintains a work-life balance, all while emphasising the importance of clear communication.
What’s your career background?
I’ve worked in retail for my entire career, starting in grocery retail, moving across to clothing retail and now music retail.
Prior to working for Rough Trade I spent 15 years at Gap Outlet ending my career there as a District Manager navigating the wind down of the UK business in 2021. At Gap I managed stores all over the country and ended my career heading up the Outlet North district.
In addition to running retail operations there, one of the initiatives I was proudest to work on, was the work that we did with the Prince’s Trust, first in the North West, and later nationwide, facilitating “Get Into… Retail” programs. These offered work experience, with the possibility of a job at the end of the program, to young people who may not otherwise have had that opportunity.
As well as my wider experience in the retail industry, I’ve tried to bring a people first mentality to Rough Trade with a real focus on learning and development, organisational integrity and community engagement.
When did you join Rough Trade and what’s your role?
I joined Rough Trade just over two years ago as the Head of Retail, heading up retail operations for our five brick and mortar stores in the UK. In April 2023, following 18 months in that role, I progressed into the newly created Head of People role and pivoted to leading Rough Trade’s HR function and people strategy.
I manage all aspects of Rough Trade’s HR strategy, which includes development and implementation of policy and procedure, supporting our managers across Head Office, our Stores and our Warehouse with all aspects of people management, building and delivering training, managing manpower planning and store payroll budgets, and driving our reward strategy.
Rough Trade is growing and expanding internationally, how does this impact your role and the business?
It is incredibly exciting to be working in a dynamic business that is growing both nationally, and internationally. We are expanding to operate across different geographies where there are different considerations relating to employment law, as well as cultural differences existing in the different territories that we operate in.
Of course as the business grows there are going to be challenges from a people management perspective. These range from integrating new teams into the business, managing constantly changing learning and development needs, understanding the impact of expansion on our reward strategy and understanding how our succession plan will need to flex to allow the business to continue to be successful.
As Head of People, what are the key initiatives you’re working on?
In September this year we launched our charity partnership with Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). We are working to raise awareness of their really important work in preventing suicide and supporting them with raising funds which will allow them to continue to offer their vital life-saving services. This will continue to be a key focus of mine as we move into the new year.
Our expansion in 2024 is also something which will also be a key focus. This will begin as we move into Q1 of next year with the key deliverables being the recruitment, onboarding, training and development of the new teams that we will hire in order to facilitate our expansion.
My team is currently creating a new and robust suite of training and development tools which will be leveraged across all of our store locations. This will also be rolled out at the start of next year in tandem with this expansion.
Finally, we remain committed to being a Real Living Wage employer in 2024. This is extremely important to us and is something which I am really passionate about. We made the transition to being a Real Living Wage employer in January 2022 and I am really proud that we have been able to maintain this rate of pay for our employees ever since.
What’s the culture like at Rough Trade and how do you cascade that in a hybrid working world?
Our culture is defined by our brand values: We are INCLUSIVE, we are CELEBRATORY, we are PROGRESSIVE, we are TRUSTWORTHY, we are DIY.
In real terms, this means that we strive to deliver inclusive and exciting store environments where our customers, and our employees, are able to discover the best new music and enjoy unique event experiences, that are informed by an expertly curated range of artists that we truly believe have made, and will go on to make, some of the most culturally impactful art that exists.
We lead this predominantly through our store teams and the service that they offer our customers. This is reinforced by our brand voice which is shared with our customers through our social channels, our blog and our website.
Ensuring that our culture shows up in everything that we do starts at the top of our business and cascades down to the shop floor, whether physical or digital. Of course, if this message isn’t clear from the top down, it can become confused or misconstrued. It is increasingly important to ensure clear and concise communication of brand expectations and initiatives to our teams.
This has certainly been true of my role. I am not based in a store, I work remotely from Manchester as well as spending time each week splitting my time between our locations in Nottingham, London and Bristol, as well as our Head Office. Ensuring open, honest and transparent communication is shared with all facets of the business is key to my role being successful.
Managing my time across these locations so that I can do this by having meaningful conversations with the people that I need to have them with on site, whilst using my time working from home for more project based work, is the best way for me to cascade the information I need to the right people in the right way at the right time. Electronic communication is what has made hybrid working possible, but being able to communicate in person is still the best method in some cases, especially when it comes to people issues.
Being frequently visible in the stores allows me to have a holistic view of any issues which exist, whether they are chronic or acute, and enables me to have open and honest conversations with all of our employees.
What are some of the challenges?
With hybrid working, the challenge is always trying to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Clear, concise and consistent communication is the best way to combat this, along with frequent and regular check-ins with our senior leaders.
Of course, despite best efforts, electronic communication can sometimes get lost in translation. Phone calls aren’t always as effective as a conversation face-to-face.
Hybrid working is often referred to as remote working for a very literal reason, you are remote from the teams, in my case the stores, warehouse and head office, for a percentage of your working time each week. I always make the effort to have consistent quality check-ins on a frequent basis for this very reason, and make sure to be present in each location at least once every two weeks.
What are the awesome aspects of your role?
One of the best things about my role is being able to work with the incredibly talented and passionate people that make up our teams across the business. A large part of my role is focussed on improving the employee experience and making sure that Rough Trade is a great place for our employees to work.
Our people are what makes Rough Trade what it is, and their passion for music, and knowledge about the records that we sell on a daily basis, is what makes our stores truly unique places to visit.
Each of our store locations has its own personality which is created by the people that work in that store which means that each visit to a different location will be different.
Being able to work with these people on a daily basis is inspiring, their passion is infectious and they are truly what makes Rough Trade a great place to work.
How do you relax and maintain a balance between work and personal life?
I try to go for a run as often as I can, and listening to music also helps me unwind. Usually these two things go hand in hand. Having a young son at home means having the time to sit down and listen to a record from start to finish is pretty unheard of. Running allows me to decompress, to look after my mental health and usually, depending on how far I run, listen to at least one record from start to finish. Equally, spending time with my family, and my Corgi Monty, allow me to focus on things other than work.
To ensure I create the right work-life balance, which is something I am very passionate about, I am very strict with how I allocate my time between work and home. I travel a lot in my role, so this is extremely important.
My team knows when I am available to them, and they understand that outside of these times, unless something is urgent, I will respond when I am back in work mode. I encourage our teams to do the same.
Making this differentiation allows me to focus time on my family, which is incredibly important to me, and also means that my team knows when the best time is to get the information that they need from me, and allows me to dedicate focussed attention to my work when it is most needed.