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Utility Bucks The Trend And Opens A Store In Manchester

Bucking the trend in retail, Liverpool-based design-led retailer Utility is marking its 20th anniversary by expanding. It has not only opened an impressive new store in Manchester, but has also invested in a whole new look – and one in which greeting cards feature prominently.

The new 1,200sqft store, which joins Utility’s existing three stores in Liverpool, has just opened in the heart of Manchester’s bustling University district on the busy Oxford Road.

The store has a fresh new aesthetic, created by Manchester design company WDC Creative, featuring bespoke plywood fittings and a pared down urban palette designed to allow the products speak for themselves.

Above: Bespoke plywood fittings allow the card designs to speak for themselves in the new look Utility.
Above: Bespoke plywood fittings allow the card designs to speak for themselves in the new look Utility.

Commenting Richard Skelton, who co-owns Utility with Kate Cowie and Dick Mawdlsey, said: “Manchester has long been on our wish list and this redeveloped Bruntwood site, with its mix of other fresh and exciting brands, was a natural fit for us.”

Above: Utility directors (right-left) Kate Cowie, Dick Mawdsley and Richard Skelton.
Above: Utility directors (right-left) Kate Cowie, Dick Mawdsley and Richard Skelton.

Having only opened a few days ago, he said the store has had “a phenomenal start and been fantastically received by customers – both new and those familiar with us from our other stores.”

The design of the new store creates a blueprint for the refit of Utility’s Liverpool One store as well as new openings currently being planned.

Greeting cards remain an important element of Utility’s offer, accounting for 40% of its stores’ turnover.

“During our 20 years of retailing in Liverpool we have gained a great reputation for our wide range of greeting cards,” Kate Cowie told PG, hoping that this reputation will not expand to Manchester with the new store. A champion of UK greeting card design, Kate and her Utility team have successfully elevated some of the great card designs, with enlarged versions anchoring the window display to effectively promote Spring seasons event. This has not only worked well for Utility’s overall card sales, but for the publisher whose artwork is given prominence.

For Valentine’s Day, for example, Utility featured two designs from Sooshichacha, a Noi design took centre stage for last Mother’s Day and a Think of Me design was used to great aplomb for Father’s Day.

Above: Utility’s ‘love card’ sales were up 36% year on year during the Valentine’s Season, helped by the Sooshichacha-based PoS.
Above: Utility’s ‘love card’ sales were up 36% year on year during the Valentine’s Season, helped by the Sooshichacha-based PoS.

As well as promoting the event and highlighting its strength on the card front, Kate said this approach also enables Utility to “showcase gifts related to that occasion and again to drive footfall into the store.”

 

Top: Utility’s Manchester store.

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