Boux Avenue’s first store in Belfast gets up and running tomorrow – but owner Theo Paphitis admitted this week that it has been a four-and-a-half year struggle to find the right spot in the city.
The former Dragons’ Den star claimed there was a “barrier to doing business” in Belfast and revealed that it had taken the brand just as long to secure a site in Northern Ireland as it had in London’s busy Oxford Street.
Paphitis said it was difficult to strike a balance between the high cost of retail rates and property rents and attracting a sufficient level of footfall required.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 56-year-old said Belfast’s retail market was one of the hardest to crack.
“Belfast was one of the areas that we know well, and would love to have opened up earlier,” he said. “But surprisingly, it’s quite difficult to find a site at the right place, at the right price. It was always on our list of early stores of options, but we have not been able to find a site.”
Paphitis drew comparisons with the challenges of finding the right retail space in central London: “I opened a store on Oxford Street. Oxford Street was also on our list when we launched, and it’s taken me four-and-a-half years to find the store. This week, we are opening in Belfast, which is also on our list, and it’s taken just as long to find the right place. And Oxford Street is one of the premier shopping streets in the world…that’s how hard Belfast has been.”
Paphitis said due to the difficulty in finding a site, he was reluctant to expand other parts of his retail empire, such as stationery chain Ryman, into Northern Ireland.
“Not at the moment, for all the reasons,” he commented. “Shopping habits have changed substantially, more people shop online, price compare. It’s difficult enough to be a bricks and mortar retailer, it really is tricky, and hard work, but you create a lot of employment. It’s tricky as it is, without other people putting barriers in the way as well.”