A spirit of independence

A spirit of independence 1 2

For Natasha Andrew, the building trade was in the blood. It was also, as she soon discovered, living in the past. We talk to her about overcoming preconceptions on the road to becoming Director and Finance Director of family- run business Andrews Building Supplies

This is a very masculine world. I first walked into the yard in 2004 and thought ‘My God – the testosterone!’ That environment can be incredibly intimidating. And I felt like that for the first six months working here

says Natasha AndrewSpirit-of-independance-2

It may seem odd for someone joining a family business to decribe themselves as “feeling like an outsider”. For Natasha Andrew, however, the decision was always going to be a tough one. First, there was the simple fact that she was a woman. The original company from which the businesses grew was called “Rose & Sons”, after all – no mention of daughters. Second, her previous experience was about as far removed from the bricks and mortar of building as it’s possible to get.

Here’s a girl who went to a nice school, a good university, went down to London, trained to become an actress, and then was an actress for five years

The shift from the vibrant, cosmopolitan and forward-looking world of London, to an industry that – by her own admission – is not always creative, or innovative or forward-looking was a gear shift that itself prompts comparison with a certain well-known drama. “It was like going through a time warp,” she says. “Literally like Ashes to Ashes!”

Andrews Building Supplies and sister company Rose Plant Hire – and Rose & Sons, the building company from which they originally grew – certainly have deep roots in the area.

It was established in 1903 by my great-great-grandfather, Reuben Rose, and they built sheds and coffins… A joinery, in effect. And then it developed into a building company under my grandad, Edgar. And then my father, Geoffrey came into the business and really blew it open. He thought ‘Hang on – why am I buying my building materials from Travis and Jewsons? I think I could do that better…

Andrews Building supplies started as just an office within the building company, and subsequently grew into the successful independent builders’ merchants we see today. Rose Plant Hire, likewise, grew out of the fact that the building company had a regular need to hire plant. “It worked beautifully, the three together, then when he decided he wanted to take more of a back seat it was the building arm that he sold.”


That was in 2008 – which unfortunately also coincided with the crash in the economy. Both companies went into the recession having, in Natasha’s words “lost their most important limb” – the building business that helped to drive the other two arms. But they have diversified and fought successfully through it, and the latest venture – Rose Landscapes, which Natasha is heading up – is one of their most ambitious yet. But there have been casualties along the way.

The one part that we found we couldn’t sustain any longer was the joinery, which was a great shame, as it was the origin of the whole company

Rose Landscapes now occupies the space that was the joinery – and the symbolism is not lost on Natasha.

I thought if we really are going to call this a day and close the doors on the joinery, then I’ve got to make sure that what we put in there is something that the whole group can be incredibly proud of, and that can redefine us for this generation. It’s a very clear break away from previous generations, so it has to live up to that

Certainly there are few indications of that Ashes to Ashes world Natasha describes – no Gene Hunt telling the nearest bird to put the kettle on (though it would be interesting to see how that went down). But much has changed since she first stepped in through those doors as an employee.

When I came here, there wasn’t a single computer – and we’re not talking about 1979, we’re talking about 2004. That’s not just one backwoods company – we’re part of an independent buying group, consisting of 82 independent companies all over Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England who group together to buy so we have stronger deals. And when I went to my first meetings, I realised a lot of those guys are exactly the same – no computers. Because a lot of the guys who work in the industry, who head up companies, they don’t like change

Part of that resistance to change is indicated by the word that crops up a lot in Natasha’s responses – “guys”. She explains:

When I go to the buying group, I sit around the table and it’s 80 men and me. Clearly not an industry that attracts a lot of women into it! That’s a shame – for the industry rather than for the women

Despite the bold step she took in joining such a male-dominated business, Natasha doesn’t particularly see herself as a trailblazer. For her, it was more a case of what she could bring to it than making a point by her presence – part of which was an awareness that businesses within the industry need to be more open to change in order to survive.

“If you ask them who has a website, even now, in 2013, not all of them do,” she says. “There was one member who had to leave the group because we’d started sending things out by email, and he refused to get an email address. In business, now, to not have an email address doesn’t seem real. But there was another guy who said: ‘The moment you put a computer on my desk, I’m leaving…’”
In spite of it all, things have changed – partly because of the computer system that Natasha herself brought in. “Now, if I say: ‘Sorry guys, the system’s down for an hour because I need to do a bit of maintenance…’ it’s the end of the world! They say: ‘What are we meant to do for an hour?’ To which I say: ‘I don’t know – what did you do for the twenty years before I came, when you had a pen and paper..?’”

A spirit of independence 1 2

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