PROFILE: Peter Tyson

‘We are born and bred retailers and proud of what we do’

Peter Tyson has moved from two small high-street shops in Carlisle to a 10,000 square-foot destination superstore. Chris Frankland asks director Matthew Tyson (pictured) why they took this bold step

These days, the ‘wow factor’ is a phrase on everyone’s lips. Maybe it’s even become a bit of a cliché. But if there is one retailer where I have walked in and instantly thought ‘wow’, then it is the new Carlisle superstore, opened late last year by Peter Tyson.

The outside does little to prepare you for what lies within. It’s big – 10,000 square feet of retail space plus a mezzanine level and a separate building for warehousing, servicing and staff facilities.

Inside, the quality of fit and finish is superb. Turn left and there are hi-fi displays for the likes of Denon and Yamaha, then a big Bose area and demo room, and at the far end a B&O area that is the equal of most standalone B&O stores, plus a superb B&O demo room for its high-end TVs and sound systems.

Turn right inside the entrance and there are TVs, a Sonos display and major appliances from the usual top names, a range cooker area, a working kitchen, Joseph Joseph kitchenware and a large SDA display– and that’s just downstairs.

Climb the impressive staircase as you enter the store and you’re in the kitchen area on the mezzanine floor – a collaboration with local specialist Johnstone & Lamming. There are seven kitchen displays, which are also used to showcase working built-in appliances. There is also a Smeg Zone and an area at the top of the staircase with tables and chairs for customers to sit down and discuss their requirements over a coffee.

B&O demo room
B&O demo room

Explore further and there are also two top-class hi-fi listening rooms, one set up with a £50,000 state-of-the-art Linn active system, plus a Dolby Atmos home-cinema theatre fitted out in collaboration with Kef and Arcam. The final element is their take on a ‘smart apartment’, which they call the Living Home area, where you can see automated lighting and blinds and various furniture options.

Director Matthew Tyson is giving me the guided tour and we stop off in the Living Home area while he makes us both a coffee with the Siemens built-in coffee machine.

Matthew is one of five brothers (David, Paul, Martin and Peter John) and one sister (Rachel) who now run the Tyson operation in Carlisle and Newcastle. Father Peter, who passed away late last year, founded the business in 1966.

We take our coffees into the plush, beautifully furnished hi-fi demo room that houses the £50k Linn system, and sit down to discuss how and why Peter Tyson moved.

Q: Why did you decide to move out of the centre of Carlisle?
Matthew Tyson:
We’ve been 50 years in business and we’d outgrown the city-centre shops. Parking and access were difficult there and customers who wanted long demonstrations could only park for an hour.

This building gave us all the facilities we needed, after suitable investment [around £1.5 million]. It has parking and is only five minutes’ walk from town. It is the best of both worlds.

Kitchens are on the mezzanine level
Kitchens are on the mezzanine level

It allowed us to improve our retail experience. Now that we have more space and better facilities, we can be a destination store and have all of our best brands together under one roof – from espresso machines to high-end Linn hi-fi.

We went out of our way to provide not only two hi-fi demonstration rooms, but also a Dolby Atmos theatre. And in our Living Home are all of the other things we can do, such as multi-room, in-ceiling and Tilevision waterproof TVs [in a shower room setting].

We are born and bred retailers and we are very proud of what we do. You can’t have the brands we have without doing them justice, whether hi-fi, TV or domestic appliances. We wanted the store to be a destination store – a best-of-everything store.

Q: But things were delayed by flooding in 2015, weren’t they?
The move itself was a two-year process, because we got a taste of the Carlisle floods in the middle of that in December 2015. I was flooded at home – a double-whammy. We can only thank our lucky stars that we were still refurbing and hadn’t moved in at that point.

Q: Have you noticed an increase in business since the move?
We’re busier in every area. We have a better showing of domestic appliances and SDAs such as KitchenAid. We’ve been able to have a few open weekends with more manufacturer involvement. There has been a real buzz about the new store.

Q: How have you expanded your product offering to fill the extra space?
We have more choice and more brands in domestic appliances. We have expanded our ranges of Samsung and LG white goods, we can display more Miele, Smeg and Gorenje, we have more KitchenAid, more coffee machines and we have added Joseph Joseph homewares. We have more range cookers on display. We have moved more into premium whites. I believe the brands we do are the best in the world and you have to do them justice. I think it’s criminal to undersell these brands. Customers who come in to buy these products have high expectations.

Bose display area on ground floor
Bose display area on ground floor

Q: Tell me about the kitchen side of things…
We collaborated with local specialist Johnstone & Lamming. We were already supplying them with appliances. It’s a match made in heaven. It is a way for Johnstone & Lamming to let customers see their kitchens in situ, as they didn’t have their own showroom. And it’s a good way for us to show our built-in appliances in a beautiful kitchen. If you are refurbing a kitchen or a bathroom, it’s a one-stop-shop. It has definitely boosted our built-in appliance sales.

Q: Have you noticed a different profile of customer coming in?
Yes, we’ve a younger profile of customer. We have retained those we had and added a younger customer base.

Q: Tyson has a long history in selling hi-fi, doesn’t it?
I was based in the hi-fi shop all of my working life until recently. We’ve had a hi-fi store for 37 years and it has gone from main Japanese brands, Trio, Kenwood and National Panasonic, to brands like Linn – British hi-fi brands. It’s one of the few areas where the UK leads the world.

It is labour-intensive and knowledge-intensive and the margin is there, but it’s not a simple sale. You have to offer great demos and follow that up with expertise. But when you get these customers, they keep coming back.

Q: Do you do a lot of streaming systems?
Yes. Linn beat the pack by a long way. The other brands were struggling to get their heads round it. Those early years were hard work, but now there’s a new generation that’s fully au fait with streaming. It’s not a conversion anymore. The majority of our hi-fi sales are streaming systems.

Q: And have turntable sales taken off?
Turntable sales have been great. We sell them all – from USB turntables to Linn LP12s and high-end Pro-Ject decks. But when you look at the GfK figures, it’s a drop in the ocean. It’s still very niche.

The new store has given over much more space for major appliance displays
The new store has given over much more space for major appliance displays

Q: Tell me about the Living Home area…
We can show things like lighting control, motorised blinds and heating. It’s a very important part of the industry and we have always focused on quality installation work.

Q: Voice control is a growing sector – have you looked at selling any of these products?
We don’t sell those yet, but we would be open to it. We have noticed enquiries from customers. There is a lot more talk about voice-activation and how to make it work. Sonos have now fitted it in the Sonos One. It works well and we’ve sold a lot. It is still new to our industry but Google and Amazon are already flying with it and I think that in the next 12 months we will see it filtering down to other brands. We have had a few Echo Dots in-store. You need to have them so you can show people the potential.

Q: The online side of your business has been growing too, I understand?
Everything in the shop we generally have online, although we don’t sell everything online, as a lot of our products need demonstration and installation. We have a separate appliances site and we are looking to expand that and do more SDAs. The sites are transactional and we’ve been online for around 15 years with audio – most sales are still audio and TV. It’s a great shop window and one of our biggest drivers into the stores. We also do click and collect.

Q: The commercial side of the business is far bigger than I imagined…
We aim at the high end. We have done some fantastic developments – many in the Lake District and lots in Scotland. We work nationwide and we’ll go where the hotels and the commercial developments are.

We cover all 900 branches of Wetherspoons. Our area of expertise is high-end – putting our fantastic brands into fantastic hotels. We will fit a main TV and audio, but also CI. We’ve also done well with Ruark. We are keen to keep growing it. It is a good part of our overall turnover.

Q: So what are your future plans?
MT: One of these in every city? [laughs] But realistically, it’s been a lot of hard work to get where we are and we’re very proud of that achievement. The next few years will be cementing what we have done and expanding in certain areas.

We’re going to push the domestic appliances and we have some great plans for marketing and in-store events.

This type of retail has got a lot of potential for growth. People want to come and see the best of everything in a destination store.

We can do that here.