FEATURE: Drakes director talks new Plymouth store

Drakes PS

A significant amount of time, effort and investment has gone into independent retailer drakes’ impressive new store in Plymouth. Sarah Louise Jordan talks to director Andrew Hirshman about design decisions, the customer experience and that 83ft glass frontage.

It was back in August 2014 that Plymouth-based independent retailer Drakes announced plans to expand its retail presence.

But instead of a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture, the company opted for something far more dramatic; taking over four units to create a bold presence with the kind of wow-factor that tempts customers across its threshold.

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The store opened on December 3 2014, but the process leading up to its grand reveal was full of twists and turns according to director Andrew Hirshman. He explains: “Originally, we were going to refurbish the store we had in the other part of the mall [on the ground floor] and we had the design all ready to go. But then the landlord of the mall came to us and asked whether we had considered taking on more space. So, we ripped up the previous design.”

With the initial redesign plan off the table, Hirshman set about negotiating a new lease with Drake Circus Shopping Centre knowing that the proposed space – four neighbouring units – meant moving its Pandora franchise store, shifting its Swarovski store and committing to significant financial investment. Fortunately, the process went smoothly, and the family-run business watched as its Pandora store moved downstairs, into its original store space, and the work began on its colossal new venture.

Of course, the company’s new store had to fit inline with its fresh branding — something that had been developed some years before and was quietly biding its time. As well as changing its name from Drakes Fine Jewellers to simply, Drakes, (taking into account the tendency of its customers to simply call the store Drakes as a matter of course), the company also invested in a new logo. Speaking of the design, Hirshman explains: “When my sister [Monique Hirshman] saw the icon created by an agency in London she burst into tears. It was everything we were looking for, as it uses three letter Ds to form a diamond shape. The Ds stand for ‘Drakes, Devoted and Destination’, but privately we use the third D for Dad, because this is our dad’s business and we love him and are extremely proud of him.”

For an independent jeweller, Hirshman admits that the nerves did kick-in when they finally saw the hoarding go up on the prominent first floor space. He remarks: “We walked into the mall and it shocked us to see how big the space was. It was a leap of faith, especially as the hoarding didn’t come down until three days before the store opened, so we had only ever seen the store from the inside.”

He continues: “I remember three nights before we opened we stayed until half past midnight waiting for [the shop fitters] to finish. We walked across the mall, looked back and saw the overall impression for the first time. To be honest, it blew us away. It was spectacular.”

In order to tackle the vastness of the space, which is double the company’s previous offer, Hirshman and his family decided to split the store into different parts; the left-hand side housing its branded boutique and the right-hand side dedicated to its diamond and bridal lounge. “Creating these distinct areas is almost like having two big shop-in-shops within the shop,” Hirshman explains. “I think because we’ve split the store into different parts it doesn’t feel like a massive space, it feels quite intimate.”

Despite some initial concerns, customers appear to have swiftly adapted to the ‘turn left or right’ option; something which is made abundantly clear by the giant water feature that has been constructed in the entrance-way. Hirshman adds: “I was worried customers would get confused and not understand which way to go [in the store] without any signage, but they seem to absolutely get it. I’m not sure if that is because of the visuals we have, or the collections we have in the windows, but they seem to understand the two separate parts.”

Explaining the decision to make a product-free entrance way, Hirshman continues: “The actual entrance is a ‘D’ shape with a water feature immediately in-front of you. We wanted to do something that is non-jewellery, but still something that would attract attention.” 
After the initial opening, the Drakes team began the inevitable process of tweaking the store, including a lighting overhaul with the team at Parify.

“You can never be 100% happy,” Hirshman muses, “but there was one particular part of the store where the diamond collections, while they were bright, weren’t really dazzling as we’d used the wrong kind of light. We changed that quickly.”

As the physical side of the store was adjusted, so was the company’s selection of brands, which has now grown significantly. Having operated a Swarovski store in Plymouth for a number of years, the offer was incorporated into the new Drakes as the “main anchor brand”.

Hirshman adds: “We’ve got Thomas Sabo, Clogau, Jersey Pearl, Rachel Galley, Lily and Lotty and Sif Jakobs, which we didn’t have before, so we’ve made a reasonable investment in new collections.” These ranges are also housed in new circular display cabinets — something that fits in nicely with Hirshman’s vision of an open plan space that breaks down barriers between staff and customers. Although the store has yet to reach the six-month mark, early indications suggest the new layout is helping to bridge that staff-customer divide, with Hirshman noting: “You’re not going to have good days every day, but the initial results look really good.”

Of course, you will only find these big name brands in one side of the Drakes store. A visit to its diamond and bridal lounge is designed to offer a different shopping experience, something that is enhanced by comfortable seating and atmospheric music. As Hirshman explains: “Drakes has been known for diamonds and wedding rings over the last 60 years and we felt that it deserved its own area. It is a different kind of sale and a different pace of sale, so you need a different ambiance. It is very difficult to try and replicate that in one space when you’ve got so many brands.”

He continues: “You shouldn’t be afraid of having brands in your store, you should be proud of them, but they shouldn’t interfere with the core part of your business. There will always be a place in the market for bridal; people will always want to get engaged and married.”

With the eye-catching store, big brands and bridal lounge on board, what’s next for the independent retailer? “Our marketing plan is to stretch our reach a bit further outside of Plymouth,” Hirshman explains. “We now feel we have something different, unique and special, and why wouldn’t people who live within a 40 mile radius come to us?”

The company has no other stores in the pipeline, with Hirshman admitting: “We are obviously still recovering from this project and we would like to learn all the lessons we need to learn first, before we consider doing this elsewhere. But never say never. We learned that a long time ago.”

Overall, the team behind-the-scenes at Drakes has achieved its aim of developing a ‘destination store’ that stands apart from the competition. Hirshman adds: “There are so many places now where people can buy their jewellery from, whether it is bricks-and-mortar or online. We knew we needed to do something different and hopefully we’ve achieved that.”

Perhaps most important for Hirshman is the Drakes company timeline, which has been given pride-of-place on the wall of the new store. Charting the company’s history from the 1950s to the present day, the timeline highlights Hirshman’s philosophy: “It doesn’t matter how big the store is, it will always be a family business.”

This feature originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it here.