Founder Q&A: Nicole Compen, Raye the Store


We’ve recently witnessed a growth in interest, amongst retailers, in prioritising innovative start-ups and micro brands as a key part of their product mix. From Sainsbury’s Future Brands in the UK, to Pop Up Grocer in the US, retailers big and small are realising the halo impact that featuring highly innovative emerging brands can bring.

We caught up with Nicole Compen, founder of curated retail concept Raye the Store, to talk retail design, product curation and community building.


Where does the story of Raye the Store begin?


Six years ago, I had an idea to create a permanent “white box” (or blank canvas) deli space, available to brands and recipe creators / cookbook authors. The idea was for them to showcase one single better-for-you brand and interact with their target customers. But during my first industry supper club event, I had an epiphany: I realised that I could create something much more interesting and appealing to both consumers and brand owners. And so, my idea evolved into a curated, multi-brand pop-up space targeted at like-minded emerging food, drink, wellness and beauty brands… which is what we are today. 


What does Raye the Store offer brand owners and consumers, respectively?


We offer support and direction to brand owners, helping them to become retail-ready and providing a growth opportunity for them at a crucial early stage. Our physical stores act as a live test bed for brands, so they can gain feedback on their packaging as well as the product itself (through sampling and demo sessions). Being featured by Raye also helps drive consumer awareness and increases exposure to our network of industry connections. This last point is really important: as we grow, so does our community of key retail buyers, investors and journalists, who are looking for something new and different to explore.

For consumers, Raye is about discovery; finding something new or physically buying a brand they could only previously view online. It’s experiential retail in the sense that our customers can handle the products, learn about the stories that built them and sometimes smell or taste them. We know people like the concept as we‘re beginning to build a community of loyal customers, with them returning to multiple editions (‘edition’ being what we call each iteration of our pop-up).


Tell us about your own approach to branding and store design.


‘Raye’ is envisioned as a ray of sunshine, shining light on different brands. When we’re not open physically, we’re a black and white brand. When we are open, each pop-up (or edition) adopts a unique colour palette and font to fit in with the local area and season. The space itself is stripped back, clean and minimalistic. We only feature a few of each product on-shelf, limiting the number of products per category and including key product details on a simple card (which isn’t product-branded). All this is designed to ensure we keep the focus on the product, we don’t unnecessarily clutter the space and we keep control of communications.


What’s your sourcing criteria for the brands you work with?


We champion early-stage brands with honesty of intention that are made without artificial ingredients or palm oil and are design-led. We also try and stick to brands that use minimal refined sugar, if any.


How do you choose the location of your pop-ups?


We prioritise office and residential areas in central London rather than tourist-heavy areas. This is important because our model relies, in part, on us being within easy reach of journalists, influencers, investors and buyers. Whilst there are a lot of vacant retail units available right now, it’s important to pick only those that feel right, are easy to access and are owned by a landlord that gets what we’re about.


Where next for Raye the Store?


We hosted our first Celebration Store at Coal Drops Yard, just before Christmas, featuring over 50 brands from our previous pop-ups. The two-week store was a first of its kind for the Raye concept. Having showcased over 500 brands in pop-ups since 2021, this time a curated selection of best loved brands from our previous eight stores were invited back; celebrating the creativity and diversity within consumer packaged goods. It focused on better-for-you, design-led products from the likes of Bold Bean Co., Moth, Bonavida, Chimac, Raise, Daydreamin’ and Two Fields Olive Oil. This has gone down a treat with people being on the hunt for unique gift options.

In terms of the bigger picture, there are some interesting avenues I’d like to explore. Whilst I’m often asked about developing an e-commerce platform, it’s not currently an area of focus for us: the whole reason we started Raye was to celebrate physical retail, hero IRL (In Real World) discovery and avoid charging shipping fees or consumers having to buy multipacks of products they’ve never even tried before. Other than e-commerce, one thing’s for sure: anything we build in the future must offer a service that supports the brands we work with.

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Nicole Compen photographed outside Raye the Store
Indoor look at Raye, the Celebration Store
Selection of products from Raye the Store
Nicole holding up a Raye the Store Christmas hamper bag.
  • Euan Sey, Founder and Commercial Director, Curry Leaf Cafe

    “They’re an easy bunch to work with, have a great knowledge of the sector and give 110%.”

  • Ruth Timmins-Williams, Brand Experience Manager, Tesco

    “Working with Sherlock is always a pleasure, the ideas keep coming and the energy remains unphased...”

  • Dan Dixon, Sales Director, Exhibitions, William Reed Business Media

    “They were flexible, great to work with, and the result more than met our expectations.”

  • Nick Cooper, Founding Director of Crunchy Critters

    “The team’s extensive knowledge of the food & drink sector really shone through and they went above and beyond...”

  • Sam Hepworth, Head of Communications and Digital Media, Whizz-Kidz

    “Sherlock rose to the challenge and provided us with several initial concepts that were all so impressive that we struggled settling on just one.”

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