From punk roots to vinyl heights: Rough Trade’s ongoing legacy and expansion
In the resounding resurgence of vinyl within mainstream music, Rough Trade emerges as a defining force, seamlessly fusing a love for music with operational expertise.
With iconic locations in London, New York, Bristol & Nottingham and a new frontier in Berlin, Rough Trade’s stores stand as cultural epicentres where music enthusiasts of every persuasion come together.
In this exclusive interview with UK Managing Director, Lawrence Montgomery, we dive into the art of orchestrating engaging customer experiences, building purposeful collaborations that transcend music, and embracing a multichannel approach that echoes the diverse beats of its vibrant community.
Is being a music-lover a must for working at Rough Trade?
Absolutely, we believe that a genuine passion for music is essential, both for our team and the vibrant community we serve. We want individuals behind the counter who truly care about what they do. Over the past five to six years, as our business has grown, we’ve done an excellent job promoting from within, building a team that not only possesses a love for music but also the necessary technical and operational skills to drive the business forward.
Music is at the heart of our culture. We embrace a wide range of genres but maintain a particularly close connection with the independent music sector. Many who have worked with us have gone on to make significant contributions to record labels or even pursued careers as musicians. While we value a deep understanding of the music landscape, we also bring in individuals with rich retail experience. For instance, David, our Head of People, who joined us from Gap, seamlessly combined his retail expertise with a passion for music.
Any initiatives you’re particularly proud of as you’ve expanded?
We take pride in being a real living wage employer, a proactive decision reflecting our commitment to fair employment practices. This sets us apart in the market, even when compared to larger chains like HMV and Waterstones. Our dedication to providing a living wage aligns with our ethos of creating a positive impact on both our team and the wider community.
How many stores does Rough Trade currently operate, and any plans for expansion?
Presently, we have five stores in the UK – three in London, one in Bristol, and another in Nottingham. Excitingly, we’ll be announcing a new store opening in the UK next year. Our presence extends globally with a store at the Rockefeller Centre in New York City, and we’ve recently ventured into Germany with an ecommerce operation, soon to be complemented by a store in Berlin.
How many people does Rough Trade employ, and how has your global expansion impacted your organisational structure?
In the UK, we currently employ about 90 people. With over ten years of operation in the US, our recent expansion into Germany prompts us to reassess our organisational structure. We’re navigating the balance between functions that cater to a global audience and those tailored to local markets, a common challenge for retailers expanding globally.
Rough Trade is known for its diverse musical offerings and events. Can you share more about the experience you provide?
Absolutely! We go beyond offering indie bands, delving into forward-facing pop music and various subgenres. Our events, like the recent signings with Danni Minogue and Charlie XCX, showcase our commitment to creating unique and immersive experiences for our customers. Whether through events, signings, or live shows, we aim to bring customers closer to the artists they love.
How has the resurgence of vinyl impacted Rough Trade, and how do you navigate different customer preferences?
The resurgence of vinyl is remarkable – in the 10 years to 2023, the number of vinyl records sold in the UK will have increased by ~700%! Our vinyl market share has tripled in the past 5 years which vindicates our strategy.
We believe a key part of the resurgence is a reaction to digital consumption – streaming services offer incredible value to the consumer but there remains a desire to have an ‘IRL’ experience. We recognise the diverse preferences of our customers, from collectors who pre order online to casual shoppers who visit our stores. To cater to this variety, we’ve diversified our channels, offering options like over-the-counter, pure play, ecommerce, membership, click-and-collect, events, and bars.
Can you tell us more about Rough Trade’s collaborations outside of music?
Collaborations are crucial to us. Partnering with Signature Brewery, London’s largest independent brewery, and Dark Arts, a music-linked roastery, adds unique dimensions to our bar offering In addition to these, we are proud of our market leading partnership with Ticketing App, Dice as well as our new charity partnership with CALM. These partnerships not only enhance our fan experience but also contribute to creating an environment where customers can engage with music and culture more holistically.
What opportunities do you see ahead for Rough Trade?
Moving forward, our focus is on getting even closer to our customers. We’re committed to building and improving the overall experience, providing personalised recommendations and services, both in-store and through our ecommerce platform. We’ll continue to expand and invest in our membership programme too which aims to offer enhanced features, discounts, and exclusive content, reinforcing our dedication to being a community-led business.