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Interview: Cartridge World CEO Paul Callow on new store format

Many retailers have found it challenging to cope with changing consumer habits in recent years. But Cartridge World has arguably faced more changes than most.

Originally founded in Australia, the brand was brought to the UK early in the new millennium, refilling printer ink cartridges for cost- and environment-conscious customers. From a first store in Harrogate it expanded quickly to have around 275 branches in the UK. Ten of these were company-owned with the rest being franchises.

But market dynamics have changed considerably since then says CEO Paul Callow, who acquired the master franchise rights to the brand in the UK less than a year ago.

“Vendors changed their technology, making the cartridges harder to refill. Some reduced their prices too; lots of people started to buy online, and of course the number of people printing at home started to reduce,” says Callow. “Fewer people were coming into stores wanting cartridges refilled.”

And as well as benefitting from cheap digital storage that reduces their need to print, domestic customers are also now used to far more impressive stores than the workshop-type interiors offered by old Cartridge World branches. “The whole expectation of consumers has changed. Cartridge World has been in a steady decline for five or six years,” says Callow. But flatlining consumer sales had been offset by growing sales from small to medium-sized business customers, he adds.

Callow, who had spent the earlier part of his career working at suppliers in the sector such as Lexmark, says he has identified a clear role for Cartridge World. This involves building on the growing B2B business that iscoming through the company’s stores, providing showroom space for professional products that aren’t given space by mainstream technology retailers.

“Small and medium-sized businesses print a lot and probably pay too much for it,” says Callow. He envisioned a store network that offered meeting and consultation spaces so that staff – and representatives from printing technology brands – could meet with customers to demonstrate products: “I felt there was good opportunity to create something new out of Cartridge World,” he says.

After presenting his brand vision to franchisees Callow set about searching for an appropriate site – finding one next door to the original launch store in Harrogate – for which he designed an interior concept with colleagues rather than using a design agency.

The treatment uses branding developed from an identity developed by Cartridge World’s operation in France, combined with a globe icon used for internationally-sourced Cartridge World products, which are manufactured in China. Interiors feature dark wood floors, a colour scheme taken from the overall brand identity, a screen to show branded content from equipment vendors, and illuminated display pods. There is also a section of slat wall display.

Equipment vendors and franchisees have been supportive of the scheme, says Callow. Any new franchisees who join the business will introduce the new format, with plans in train to recruit a dozen new franchisees this year. Callow also expects around half a dozen existing franchisees to upgrade to the new look over the same period.