Steve Cochrane, a 61-year-old father of three boys, founded fashion retailer Psyche in Middlesbrough in 1982.
His wife Alex, 40, works in the business as a secretary and a buyer.
Psyche won Drapers Menswear Retailer of the Year 2018/19, and Steve was awarded the MBE in 2018 for services to the economy and regeneration in Middlesbrough.
Business battle: Husband and wife team Steve and Alex Cochrane have seen sales slump through the pandemic
I started Psyche in 1982 and we’ve never had a year like this. We have a store in Durham, a department store in Middlesbrough and two websites – one for children’s wear and one for men and ladies’ fashion. We sell a lot of brands, including Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren, Armani and Hugo Boss.
In a normal year our sales are just shy of £10million. This year we’re looking at £6.5million to £7million, and even then it depends on the next few months.
Black Friday, the shopping discount holiday at the end of November, and Christmas are make-or-break for us, so if there’s any meddling in November and December, survival is going to be difficult.
Last year was tough, but we made a small profit. This year we will make a significant loss. We’ve cut staff from 84 to 56 and I don’t want to cull any more, especially this close to Christmas. It’s painful to lose good people but it’s either that or the business fails.
It was frightening in the weeks heading into the first lockdown. We didn’t know what to expect or how dangerous Covid was. I remember being in the store on the Saturday before and we were so quiet it was unbelievable.
We closed on the Monday, as it wasn’t worth being open. Most of our Spring/Summer stock was getting delivered, £4million-worth.
The closure gave us time to think. We remodelled the department store, made our occasion-wear selection smaller and expanded men’s and kid’s fashion, and I’m so glad we did.
If people don’t wear suits to work, go to the races or get married, it’s absolutely dead.
I took out a large coronavirus business interruption loan, but this was really debt to pay off debt.
We had to come up with deals and payment plans with suppliers and landlords. It all makes retailing very precarious, as it’s difficult to keep up with the amount of change.
There’s a noticeable drop in footfall, but people who come in are spending more per visit and there is significant growth online. I don’t know why people are buying clothes because they’re not going out! I suppose they still want retail therapy.
Jobs threat: The Cochrane’s Psyche department store in Middlesbrough was forced to close on Monday
People are getting ready for Christmas early because they want escapism. They are sick of this drudgery, the weather has been horrendous and now we’ve got Brexit to look forward to. We sent out the first Christmas mailer at the end of September and got great results.
A lot of retailers I know are very anxious. If, like Leicester, the north-east goes into lockdown and doesn’t come out, that will cause a big dent in our sales between now and the end of January, when we normally make 60 per cent of our revenue.
Teesside was in the tier two restrictions on Monday – no household mixing. Who knows what will happen?
All the companies that aren’t strong online will go bust in January. For many their business is their life’s work. If they lose that, it’s game over.
I voted Tory because Boris Johnson made a compelling candidate, but he’s been erratic at best. He has not been consistent enough and I’m not confident that he is thinking about everyone in all parts of the UK.
I’d like the chief executive of Middlesbrough council to make the decisions about lockdown in the best interest of businesses and people here.
The winter jobs plan announced by Rishi Sunak is not viable. I’m not going to pay staff a third more for them not to be here, that’s like giving them a pay rise to do less.
The Chancellor’s scheme won’t make a difference at Psyche, but jobs lost here have long-term consequences.
It contributes to a brain drain away from the region. We’ve got highly skilled people at Psyche, including graphic designers and photographers. I don’t want to lose skilled people from my business or the region.
It adds to my feeling that the Government’s ‘levelling up ‘ has not reached the north-east.
There are quite a few Tory MPs locally, but I think a lot of people who voted Tory last time won’t do so again. They haven’t exactly bathed themselves in glory.