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Q&A: How Psyche's owner designed an award-winning store concept

Steve Cochrane maintains theatre at the Middlesbrough landmark with constant evolution.

Fresh from winning this year’s Drapers Independents Award for Best Store Design in September, Steve Cochrane, owner of Middlesbrough-based independent Psyche, explains how he makes the 35-year-old, 35,000 sq ft store stand out.

Q: How did it feel to win the award?

A: I never expected to win. We were up against some really good retailers so it was fantastic to get it. Psyche isn’t a job to me – it’s an obsession and a labour of love. I’m always focused on how to get it right and keep improving it.

 

Q: The store design is a collaborative process between you, your managers and the brands. How do you make Psyche stand out from the crowd?

A: It’s the space itself. We have a huge atrium that goes right through the store, letting in loads of light, and everything is presented to a very high standard. We are creating retail theatre. We change the store with the seasons – we swap the graphics we have on the walls, the windows, everything. It’s all about creating an exciting atmosphere and paying close attention to detail.

Q: You started work on adding a new floor to the store this summer. What difference will that make?

A: The new floor should be finished by November, and it will cost £500,000 all in all. It will give us a big boardroom, a bigger buying office, a large staff room and an office for the accounts department. As the business and team have grown over the years, the extra space was essential.

Q: Psyche is known for its striking shop-in-shops, which include a hunter-style lodge for Barbour and an Ivy League yacht club for Polo Ralph Lauren. Are there any new ones in the works?

A: We’ve had the branded shop-in-shops for the last eight years and they work really well. We’ve just finished a bright pink shop fit for Paul Smith on the ground floor and we’ll have a new one for J Lindeberg finished by November. We’ve also got a new one for Hugo Boss kidswear going in soon.

We’re known for our bigger brands, but we also stock a lot of contemporary designer brands such as Kenzo, Universal Works and DSquared2. We need a balance between the two [brand types], so we have just refitted the contemporary brand space at the front of the store with new lights and black slate features. I want to push those newer brands to the front of stage.

Q: How often do you change the brand mix?

A: We have around 180 brands across all categories, but it fluctuates depending on the season. If something isn’t working, we’ll drop it and bring in something new. We’re always asking customers what they want and they are always looking for new brands. At our tills, we have a missed sales list where we note down any brands shoppers ask for that we don’t stock. If a name keeps cropping up, we’ll check it out.

Q: How do you feel about in-store technology?

A: Retail is changing, so we need to evolve to meet shoppers’ needs as they become more tech-savvy. We are introducing wi-fi later this year and we send Bluetooth push notifications about in-store promotions when customers are within 200 metres of the shop. We’ve also introduced digital screens showing catwalk shows.

Q: How important is customer service?

A: It is essential. It gives us a way of differentiating [the store] from online. Online sales have grown substantially over the last couple of years but we can’t lose sight of the backbone of the business – the store. We have stepped up our staff training to ensure consistency across all departments. Our staff need to be friendly and jolly and have smiles on their faces no matter what. Passion and knowledge for product is also crucial. It needs to be a positive and easy experience. If it isn’t, shoppers will go elsewhere.

Q: How do you feel about the season ahead?

A: The first half of the year was challenging and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit didn’t help. Footfall on the high street suffered. Since August, however, things have picked up, so I’m optimistic about the autumn season.

Q What implications will Brexit have for the business?

A: We import a lot of product in euros, so the currency fluctuations have hit us. We’re taking the hit this autumn, but we’ll have to increase prices from next spring. It think it’s going to be an interesting rollercoaster over the next couple of years and we’ll have more challenges ahead of us.

Q: Where do you see the business in five years?

A: I’d like to expand into new towns or cities, and I’d like my oldest son to come into the family business.

 

  • Address: 175-187 Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 4AG.
  • Website: psyche.co.uk
  • Key brands: Hugo Boss, Paul Smith, Emporio Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, Barbour, Ted Baker, Farah, Michael Kors, Hunter
  • The Drapers Independents Awards judges said: “This store has awesome design that must be the envy of the industry, and its attention to detail is brilliant. It has great character, an excellent use of props and is a real landmark at night. Steve is constantly updating the store design – each department has its own identity and no two visits are the same. The passion behind the business shines through in the design.”

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