A day in the life … with Mark Baldwin, Head of Products & Services, Sue Ryder
In this interview, we talk to Mark Baldwin, Head of Products & Services at Sue Ryder to find out more about his role.
Sue Ryder, nominated as the 2023 Retail Employer of the year, is the national palliative and bereavement support charity, is known for its extensive network of just under 400 charity shops where donated items like clothing, furniture, books, and music find new homes. Beyond its expert and compassionate end-of-life care and grief services, Sue Ryder is dedicated to fostering a positive impact on both the environment and the community.
Mark sheds light on the organisation’s core activities, emphasising its strong commitment to sustainability, initiatives for reducing, reusing, and recycling, and strategic engagements with businesses for corporate donations.
Can you share more about your background and role at Sue Ryder?
I come from a retail background, having worked at Home Retail Group and Argos, where I gained expertise in logistics, buying, and merchandising. This diverse experience prepared me for my current role as the Head of Products & Services at Sue Ryder.
In my nearly 5 years here, I initially led the New Goods department, but my responsibilities expanded with the introduction of a sustainability-focused strategy about 6 months before the Covid lockdown.
Now, I oversee both new products and donated items. While I don’t directly influence what donors bring in, I do have a say in the types of products we accept and how we price them. A notable shift has been our proactive approach to corporate donations, with the addition of a corporate donations manager. Engaging with businesses for product donations has presented challenges, but it has also been a fulfilling aspect of my role.
Can you provide an in-depth look into your typical day as Head of Products & Services at Sue Ryder, detailing various responsibilities and activities?
A typical week for me is a dynamic blend of strategic planning and hands-on engagement. This week I met with Verisio, our supply chain specialist partner. We discussed sustainability drivers, including compliance with the Modern Slavery Act and ways to encouraging our suppliers to share their sustainability journeys. This is integral to our strategy of reducing CO2 emissions and environmental impact.
Another significant aspect is budgeting. I’m currently working on setting budgets for the upcoming year, a vital task to stretch our sales and achieve year-on-year growth. Collaborating with the finance team and focusing on our recent move to Shopify for online operations, we aim to enhance the customer experience by offering diverse products and services. We’re constantly adapting to a changing landscape. The ultimate challenge lies in expanding our appeal across demographics, especially online.
One standout event this week was leading a facility review in Northampton. With the lease up for renewal, I’m exploring options for our building, considering sustainability factors like EPC compliance. It’s not just about bricks and mortar; we’re looking to create an environment that aligns with our values and supports our operations efficiently.
Engaging with the broader retail community is important too. I recently attended a workshop on Textiles 2030, alongside major retailers like Tesco, AllSaints and Next. The initiative aims to transition the fashion and textiles industry to more sustainable practices. It’s not just about selling pre-loved items; we’re exploring ways to extend the lifespan of clothing through repair and upcycling.
My role isn’t confined to a desk which I think is great. It’s about navigating a multitude of challenges, from supply chain sustainability to facility management, all while ensuring our retail operations align with the values of Sue Ryder. It’s not just a job; it’s a multifaceted commitment to making a positive impact on people’s lives, both within and outside the organisation.
How has the sustainability strategy at Sue Ryder influenced your role, and can you elaborate on the proactive steps being taken?
Sustainability is an important part of Sue Ryder’s mission. One noteworthy initiative is our community initiative, the Furniture Workshop in Maidstone which we opened about 18 months ago. The workshop focuses on giving a new lease of life to donated furniture through activities like painting, sanding, and adding new elements like handles or legs. Buster, our Workshop Manager, leads a team of local volunteers, including retirees or those looking for a hands-on and practical involvement beyond the typical shop volunteering.
The workshop is visible inside the shop, allowing customers to see the upcycling process, from painting to repairing. It’s been a significant success, demonstrating our commitment to a more caring way to shop. For instance, Buster once transformed a discarded chest of drawers found on the roadside, selling the refurbished item for £70, preventing it from going to waste.
Additionally, we’ve incorporated sewing into our initiatives. Volunteers use a sewing machine in the workshop to upcycle items like turning old denim jeans into handbags. We’ve also ventured into creating draft excluders or door stops from rags or old fabric, contributing to energy savings by repurposing torn or broken clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills. Expanding these workshops is a challenge due to space limitations, but we’re actively exploring opportunities to do so.
I recently attended a sustainability masterclass in London with our new Senior Sustainability Officer. This collaboration synergizes our efforts, aligning the retail perspective with the broader charity goals. The course facilitated networking with industry experts from large retailers and suppliers, providing valuable insights.
Hiring a dedicated sustainability role was a strategic decision emphasising our commitment to embedding sustainability across all aspects of Sue Ryder. We’re redefining our processes, engaging with industry initiatives, and ensuring our entire ecosystem, from furniture workshops to online platforms, reflects our dedication to creating a positive impact on the environment.
What specific measures does Sue Ryder take to ensure employee development, and how do you see this contributing to the overall success of the organisation?
The emphasis on employee development is significant. From attending masterclasses to exploring coaching courses, Sue Ryder encourages continuous learning. Regular focus groups allow us as employees to actively contribute to decision-making processes, which drives a culture of collaboration and growth.
Plus, we received an award for being the Employer of the Year 2023 from The People in Retail so we must be doing something right! This recognition underscores our commitment to employee well-being and development, factors vital for our success.
Maintaining a work-life balance is crucial. How do you take care of your well-being?
Finding balance is key. One aspect is my commitment to physical well-being. I’ve been prioritising my health with a focus on eating well and exercise. It’s a wonderful way to clear the mind and stay energised. Meditation has become a daily practice for me, offering a mental reset and promoting mindfulness. In a role with significant responsibilities, having these moments of calm is really important.
Music is a huge part of my life. Playing bass guitar and electric/acoustic guitar is not just a hobby; it’s a therapeutic outlet. I engage in weekly jam sessions with friends, tapping into the joy of creating music. I also do some home recording and even dabble in songwriting, channelling my creativity!
Family plays a significant role in my downtime. Spending quality time with my three-year-old daughter is both rewarding and a source of joy. Even during the challenging times of lockdown, these family moments became anchors in my routine.
To challenge myself and contribute to a cause close to my heart, I’ve undertaken the December Daily Dash, committing to a 5-kilometer walk or run every day throughout December. It’s not just a personal challenge; it’s also a fundraiser for Sue Ryder, aligning my passion for running with a charitable cause.
Switching off from work is a deliberate and necessary practice. It’s about finding a harmonious blend of physical activity, creative outlets, and precious moments with loved ones to recharge and approach each day with renewed energy.