Andreas Murkudis embodies the serenity that permeates his conceptual retail spaces. With the possibility of another Berlin outpost on his mind, we discover how the unflappable pastor of fashion and design manages his staff and keeps his cool.
Entering AM, an airy shop in a hidden courtyard off Berlin’s Potsdamer Strasse, is an almost sacred experience: the high ceilings and transcendental atmosphere are reminiscent of a place of worship. For many fashion and design connoisseurs from Berlin and beyond, Andreas Murkudis’s store is just that.
It’s a place they might buy design items and clothing from a meticulously displayed array of rare contemporary and traditional brands, or simply visit for inspiration. Hanging from freestanding racks, displayed on plinths or floor-to-ceiling shelves are niche brands for men, women, children and design-lovers: Aspesi and Dries van Noten as well as more esoteric labels such as Dušan and Odeeh. Murkudis is arguably the father of the Berlin concept store. “I don’t like that term though,” he says. Dressed in black and dark blue, he exudes a Zen-like calm as he glides across the floor, quietly chatting with his staff. “We work with 200 brands. Some sell really well, some sell moderately, some barely sell at all,” he says, smiling. “It doesn’t matter; we love them.”
Beyond the cathedral feel, the shop works like an art gallery, with Murkudis a gallerist who is loyal to both his cash cows and conceptual favourites. “When I work with a brand it’s a decision for the long term,” he says. He opened his first permanent shop in 2003 in an unmarked courtyard off Münzstrasse with brands such as Martin Margiela. At first he worked entirely alone then slowly added additional spaces in and around the courtyard, as well as carefully selected staff.
As the business has grown the loyalty Murkudis has shown to brands has been extended to his employees: within the company’s non-hierarchical structure there is a great deal of respect and dialogue, with the founder implicitly trusting his staff. Many of them are friends or colleagues chosen because Murkudis has worked with them elsewhere or been on the receiving end of their salesmanship. Jörg, for instance, who works on the shop floor, has been with AM almost since the beginning: Murkudis was well looked after by him in another store and wanted his honest approach and discerning eye for his own customers.
Murkudis’s parents immigrated to East Germany from Greece and the young man spent his early childhood in Dresden behind the Iron Curtain. Before taking up retail he was the director of Berlin’s design-heavy Museum der Dinge. He then took a year off to work with his brother, designer Kostas Murkudis, as he plotted his next move.
“I thought I’d sell design and fashion but only things I really like,” he says. “I had a pop-up store that worked well so I started looking for a space.” In 2003 he found an artist’s loft in a then-desolate courtyard near Hackescher Markt in Berlin’s Mitte district and spent €20,000 – his entire savings at the time – on renovations and initial inventory. The result was the original AM, a spare, hidden and unmarked retail space. “I had to sell the pieces very quickly to pay my invoices,” he says, chuckling. “But it worked. It still does.”
By the late 2000s Murkudis had a team of 10 people but noticed that the neighbourhood was changing and realised he’d rather have his multiple spaces consolidated in one larger store. He decided on his current space in 2011 within five minutes of seeing it; it’s part of a daily newspaper’s former printing press, surrounded by art galleries. Again, everything was independently financed. He called upon aas Gonzalez Haase architects to design the interior, as he has done with all his spaces since. “I never thought about how much it cost,” he says. “Once you see numbers on a business plan you don’t want to start a business.”
Murkudis’s staff tend to be as relaxed as their employer. They don’t earn commission and are instead paid generous salaries, ensuring that the hard-sell tactics that run counter to Murkudis’s philosophy are completely avoided.
Murkudis has about 40 employees altogether who are in the main store, a beautiful new furniture and design shop nearby, his spaces in the Bikini Berlin mall, as well as an outlet across town. It’s a lot to handle but, as always, he’s relaxed; his staff agree that he’s never visibly harried. The ease comes from working with a close team and having organically grown a business from the heart with integrity and no outside investment. It’s this ethos that keeps customers coming back too.
Looking to the future, would the AM empire ever expand beyond Berlin? Although a new Aspesi store spearheaded by Murkudis opened in Munich in October, he is convinced that an AM-style store wouldn’t work without his near-constant presence: “I’m here six days a week; it’s not possible to do this somewhere else.” Nor, considering the space’s gargantuan size and Berlin’s comparatively low rents, would it be feasible to pull it off in a city such as London, New York or Paris. But Murkudis is not sitting still. Loyal shoppers, friends and fans who come for meditative breaks can rest assured: he’s angling to open a third shop right here on Potsdamer Strasse. Watch this space.
- What time do you like to be at your desk?
Normally at 08.00.
- Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or on the job?
You have to start by working on the job.
- What’s your management style?
I’m not really a manager, I’m really relaxed in these things. My employees are friends; I’ve known some of my people for 25 years. I trust them.
- Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
I make most of the decisions by myself here [laughs].
- Do you want to be liked or respected?
- What does your support team look like?
I have had a personal assistant since last year.
- What technology do you carry on a trip?
I have only my mobile phone and my Apple laptop.
- Do you read management books?
- Do you run in the morning? Wine with lunch? Socialise with your team after work?
None of those things. I wake up every morning at 06.00, take the children to school and go directly to the office. I have a quick lunch with no wine. Afterwards I go home to see my wife and kids.
- What would your key management advice be?
Trust your intuition.