Argento: Former stall trader branches out into prime Belfast retail districts
Jeweller Argento now has presence in Royal Avenue and Grafton Street
Northern Ireland fashion jeweller Argento unveils its new flagship Belfast shop and headquarters next month after making a major investment in buying the property.
Argento, which is run by Co Tyrone-born Pete Boyle, has bought the Royal Avenue building formerly occupied by luxury jeweller Lunn's from the company for an undisclosed sum.
Argento's roots lie in the stalls which Mr Boyle ran on streets and beaches in the 1990s with supplies sourced from traders around Ireland and eventually, from more far-flung global locations.
But now the company has around 40 shops around the UK and Ireland, employing around 350 people – and last month opened on Dublin's Grafton Street, a retail location synonymous with luxury shopping – and once, some of the world's highest shop rents.
The expanded Royal Avenue shop will open next month – and the shutters are also being brought up on shops in Newry, Portadown, and the Ards Shopping Centre.
The head office of the company will also be located above the Royal Avenue shop, which will have a 'heritage shop front' in a nod to the premises' listing building status.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Boyle said the last 12 months had been the busiest in the company's 17-year history as it splashed out on investments and refits – the Royal Avenue shop is the first time it has bought its own shop premises.
The main company in the business – Argento Contemporary Jewellers Ltd – made pre-tax profits of £1.082m in the year to the end of June 2013.
Mr Boyle said he saw the Grafton Street opening as a milestone but not on account of the traditional prestige of a Grafton Street address.
"One of our first suppliers has a stall right outside Trinity right beside it, though they've retired now," he said. "It's just one of those rare coincidences that happens.
"We don't really go much for prestige by and large. The rent on Grafton Street is now substantially lower than it has been.
"The rents are now at the point where it can be profitable, because a business still has to turn over money."
Before the site had come up the business had "by and large" given up on Dublin, even closing its kiosk in the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre.
Gareth Shiells, an associate at commercial property agent Savills in Dublin, which secured the site for Argento, said Grafton Street remained a prestigious location. "A former A-Wear unit has had eight bidders on it, and Massimo Dutti and Space NK are just two major international retailers which have moved in recently."
He said rents had fallen by up to 50% on the street, with Argento paying €70,000 per year (£56k).
Mr Boyle said that despite the scale of the business, lessons learned as a market and stall trader were still valuable. "It is all about hard work, and you must be competitive. You can never sit on your laurels because someone will take your business off you."