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Modern classics

GPO, operated by ProTelx, makes and designs classic, vintage and retro technology. Director Gary Basso tell us moreā€¦

When did ProTelX get started?

ProTelX was established in 2009 by me and three others; Paul Conway, Neil Hinde and Lisette Hinde. We all had an ambition to design and develop high quality consumer goods.
The GPO brand; a historic 19th and 20th Century brand that operated for 150 years, became part of ProTelX with an eye to reviving a much loved retro range of products.

Describe your gift ranges and the idea behind them.

The original GPO telephones were made by the Post Office and are instantly recognisable to anyone who grew up in Britain pre 2000, simply because almost every home had one. The GPO 746 rotary dial telephone was a staple of almost every British hallway.
When ProTelX bought the GPO brand, the goal was to recreate these retro telephone designs, but update and modernise them for the 21st Century consumer - making them compatible with modern day banking, for example.
GPO knew there was an opportunity to revive a design classic and make it a fashion item, with a range of styles and colours for people to pick and choose for their home.
In 2013, GPO added record players to the collection. At the height of an economic downturn the retro feel of the vinyl turntable caught the mood of a nostalgic consumer and they took off. Radios came next and then vinyl accessories. Each was created with a retro design combined with modern kit, like a vinyl turntable with a USB port for digital connectivity, or Bluetooth.
Retro inspired design is GPO's tagline and that's what our products are - retro with an injection of modern innovation.

What has proved the most popular and why?

The record players' success has taken us by surprise. In the run up to last Christmas, one in five turntables bought were made by GPO. New stockists in 2016 include HMV, Liberty's and Selfridges. The unexpected growth of the vinyl market took retailers by surprise as much as everyone else. The sale of turntables since 2009 has risen by 445 per cent. GPO has a fifth of that market.

Vintage products are very on trend at the moment, why do you think that is?

Nostalgia, to put it simply. The launch of the Stylo came at exactly the right time for us. There was an air of nostalgia because of the economic downturn, and periods of recession do drive a sense of looking back.
Vinyl sales started to rise and people began to go into the attic and get their old record players downstairs again. The Stylo was one of the first back to basics models in the marketplace and we designed it very much for people who didn't have a huge amount of cash to spend but wanted to be part of that vinyl revival. It was under £50.

How important are trade fairs to getting your brand known?

We don't sell directly to the consumer with GPO. We sell through stockists. So that retailer/manufacturer relationship is the most important one we have. Trade fairs enable us to build that relationship with our existing retailers and distributors and help us to provide a showcase of our products.
Two years ago we built a special stand to take our range of record players on tour so to speak. It's a round table design, like a vinyl record, letting people see our turntables and have a play. We also have a special wall we built for our telephones. In fact, the design worked so well at trade fairs we recreated it in our showroom at our Greater Manchester HQ so that retailers can come and see it to explore our range and new products.
Nothing beats being able to get your hands on a product, rather than just describe it down the phone.

What about your website and social media?

Even though we don't sell directly to consumers, GPO is a consumer brand so through our website and social media we communicate with both stockists and the people who buy our products.
We redesigned our website last year and added extra functionality for stockists to help them manage their orders. We have a noticeboard and eshot service to keep stockists up to date on our products.
We also introduced a new Postcode searcher for consumers to find the nearest GPO stockist to them - we're passionate about independent stores and reviving the high street so while we love our online retailers we want people to find the nearest record shop or gift shop to them as well to buy a turntable or telephone if that's how they want to shop.
While our social media is consumer focused, through competitions and brand partnerships and the like (we just gave away a GPO Bermuda as part of a partnership with a music festival) we also use our channels as an opportunity to promote our stockists.
A few of them are currently sending us amazing pictures of their store designs featuring GPO products which we've put on our Facebook page; it's like they're competing to see who can deliver the most stunning window display, it's amazing!

What changes or developments can you predict for the giftware industry?

The biggest change, online, has happened, but it's how that develops and expands. You physically can't be everything to everyone but with so many channels and platforms, giftware brands have to be confident that they know who their audience is, who they're selling to and what they offer. Consumers are savvy, they can spot when someone isn't authentic. One thing we saw last year, which might come as a surprise, is a growing return of bricks and mortar stockists. More of our sales are coming from the high street than they used to. Many commentators herald online as being the death knell of the high street, but maybe they spoke too soon.

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