A Belfast furniture retailer, which dramatically closed its doors last month, had been part-funded by around 200 small investors in England who could now lose out, it has emerged.
Belfast Furniture Mall at Balmoral Plaza shut two weeks ago, leaving customers and suppliers to the high-end retailer – which was opened by an English business consortium in December – significantly out of pocket.
Lorryloads of furniture were removed from the store when it closed, putting orders beyond the reach of customers and leaving suppliers unable to reclaim goods.
It has now been confirmed that the English company behind the store, Finest Furniture Ltd, drew £700,000 in funding from peer-to-peer investors who had signed up to Assetz Capital in Stockport.
The small investors now face devastating losses as a result of the sudden closure.
A spokesman for Assetz Capital said it had drawn the six-figure sum needed to fund the Belfast store from the contributions of 200 people "from every walk of life".
Peer-to-peer lending, or crowdfunding, means seeking funding from ordinary people for a business or creative venture, therefore bypassing traditional lenders, such as banks.
Assetz Capital said it had now started a business review of what had gone wrong.
Managing director Andrew Holgate said it was trying to find "satisfactory solutions" for investors.
"As the managing director, I am personally involved in this case as recovering our investors' funds is paramount.
"Investors in this loan are business-savvy individuals of all ages who have invested anything from £20.
"Regardless of their age or the amount invested, they are equally as important to us in this situation, so our focus remains on trying to recover all funds and therefore repaying every penny."
Irate customers told the Belfast Telegraph that they went down to the shop to find it shut and empty, with a sign on the door directing customers to an email address. They also said their emails and phone calls have remained unanswered for weeks. Twenty staff say they have also been "left in limbo" waiting on wages and expenses.
Among the suppliers, Michael McGurk, from Pinakle Interior Products in Dunmurry, said he has lost several thousand pounds worth of payment for divans and mattresses.