Drum crazy

Drum crazy

There’s more to business than banging your own drum, Andy Anderson finds as he upskills percussion sales and tuition to match changing needs of customers.

Andy Anderson’s drum business is on a roll now he’s had backing from hard-hitting members of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Paul Weller’s band. Percussion from his Drum Shop UK Ltd serves all kinds of musical styles and supplies professional musicians and educational needs across the UK.

A drummer himself for 30 years, and heading a business he has developed over 16 years, Anderson decided two years ago that a few more skills to his Gateshead business offset would stimulate growth. The business beat was rapidly changing with: n Greater interest in music at schools, particularly in drumming.

“Around 15 years ago, schools were more into strings,” Anderson observes. “Now a drumming community has developed”; n Growing public concern bringing regulatory safeguards against child abuse. Whereas music shop owners randomly distributed lists of music teachers for their customers to approach, now instrument sellers like Anderson are expected to check anyone they recommend to teach young musicians through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

“We make sure everything is in place and vetted,” Anderson says. Drum Shop staff themselves tutor young drummers now too, teaching them to read music – “the only way to really learn percussion”. And they’re qualified to put them through exams. Simply banging in hope of a fascinating rhythm no longer satisfies many customers; n Technology, too, has made drumming more socially acceptable.

Customers still call occasionally for guidance after neighbours’ complaints of noisy rehearsals bring council officials round with their sound meters. But sounds can be dampened now.

For example, the Drum Shop’s own three dedicated teaching booths in a converted Washington warehouse have electronic drum kits with controllable volumes. At home, too, players can strike out confident the only sound will be coming through their headphones.

They can accompany their favourite tracks on iPod or CD player disturbing no-one. The cost of this “love thy neighbour” extra is now down to around £370. But there were business aspects of the Drum Shop in need of attention. Anderson admits: “My time was taken up with day-to-day operations. Sales fluctuated when I wasn’t in the shop.

There was clearly a need to identify skills gaps and develop staff.” Anderson, 45, turned to Business Link North East for advice and support. A training and development programme it drafted soon enabled staff to gain adult qualifications in teaching. A Business Link adviser also recommended learning and mentoring programmes, enabling Anderson and his manager Mick Cape to develop people management skills and motivate and manage their six-strong working line-up. Two have gained the teaching qualifications to staff the dedicated teaching facility in Washington, while a third has taken customer service training to NVQ 2 level.

An adoption of Quickbooks accounting software and stock system allows speedier identification of profitable and non-profitable areas of the business. And the firm is now working towards Investors in People status. Through Business Link, the Drum Shop UK is also better equipped to market, forecast cashflow and plan the business generally. Anderson says: “Training has made a real difference.

The team is more focused and motivated. And I’m able to devote more time to business strategy and looking at opportunities for growth.” Also, heavily reliant on internet sales, the company needed financial support to improve its e-commerce website, which it gained from the North East England Investment Centre. But it’s the opportunity to learn from masters that will probably impress aspiring players most. By calling on contacts in the industry, Anderson has been able to set up drum clinics where visiting top-line artists pass on skills by example. Recent clinics have been led by Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Paul Weller’s band mate of 20 years and more, Steve White. Drumming is a great way to shed workaday frustrations. How long, though, does it take to become a skilled player for sheer pleasure? Anderson says: “That depends on how much effort you want to put in.

“If someone tells us they want to play along to a swing record we could get them swinging with some of their favourite tracks – if they put the practice in – within two or three months. Keep practising and they could be reasonably good in six to 12 months.” Anderson and Cape recognise, however, that drumming technologies and styles are continually evolving.

That requires some globetrotting to keep up. A recent visit to California has reinforced Anderson’s view and he says: “There are always different things coming out, both in the instruments and in their playing. People are always trying wild and wonderful things. There are so many techniques and playing styles. I’ve learned a lot, for example, about death metal, a style for very fast and loud music.

It’s very hard but popular with many young people.” He’s right. American heavy metal band Slipknot exemplifies the style - and has sold more than 14m records. As for product awareness, Anderson fears British manufacture – once among the best in the world - is waning, whereas lots of the equipment now made in China, Taiwan and Japan is very good. Anderson prefers US kit, more expensive but high in quality. Gillian Middleton, skills adviser at Business Link, has no doubt the beat will go on.

She says of the Drum Shop UK: “The business has gone from strength to strength through Andy and Mick’s enthusiasm and commitment to developing themselves and their staff.” Changed days, then, since Anderson hung around the local music shop as a 16-year-old, hankering to pick up sticks and brushes. Later he played clubs with local bands, and cut records in Holland. It was after working in the drum department of a shop for some years he got the chance to take over an established drum repair business, which he did with barely £500.

From selling second-hand kits, he took the business further. One thing Business Link and his own intuition has taught him is that no drummer dare miss a beat. In drumming, and in the drum business especially, he who hesitates is lost.

Business Link: tel 0845 600 9 006. www.real-innovators.