Harvey Norman opens third branch in Northern Ireland
Margaret Canning gets an insight into the latest expansion by the furniture giant over lunch with its Boucher Road manager, Eamon McFadden
It's a case of 'go, Eamon, go' when having lunch with Harvey Norman Boucher Road manager, Eamon McFadden. 'Go, Harvey, go' is the motto of Harvey Norman - as we all know - and Eamon's been on the go for a full working day already when we meet for lunch close to Harvey Norman's latest store here, which opens tomorrow at the former home of luxury furniture firm Fultons at Boucher Plaza.
It's Northern Ireland's third branch of the Australian-based furniture retailer, after Holywood Exchange and Newtownabbey, and a multi-million pound investment, too. Since Eamon is extremely busy adding the finishing touches, we go for lunch at Italian-style chain Frankie & Benny's close to the new store.
Eamon chooses an American hot pizza, while I pick a salted beef hot bagel, which turns out to drenched in a rather unwelcome Thousand Island dressing - though Eamon's pizza is a winner.
Eamon's a retail veteran after 30 years in the business, and has worked in Harvey Norman in Newtownabbey for seven years.
Before that, he worked at Land of Leathers, and managed the former Northern Ireland Electricity store, Shop Electric, on Belfast's High Street.
But Eamon's proudest of what he's achieved at Harvey Norman. "When I started it was number 12 in the top stores in Ireland, but now it's number two," he says.
"Newtownabbey's performance is up there with the best and that's what's given Harvey Norman confidence to go for a location and invest in it heavily, and employ even more people."
Now he's been put in charge of the company's new Boucher Road venture, which is the business's first 'Harvey Norman Home Centre'.
That means that as well as Harvey Norman lines - including a higher-end range - it will also have concessions operated by independents for other aspects of home improvement, such as paint and wallpaper, and curtains and fabrics, which will be run by well-known Belfast firm, The Spinning Wheel.
Eamon's immensely proud of the entire project.
"We've taken over what was the most prestigious site in Belfast and made it even better."
There are famous features of the former Fultons - such as marble floors and the grand escalator in the foyer - which have been retained.
"We've changed it a bit to open it up a bit and make it a bit more modern - we wanted to have a modern, vibrant, furniture store."
A new restaurant has been added, run by home-grown chain Synge & Byrne.
All Harvey Normans have separate bedding and furniture sections, though unusually, Eamon will be the manager of both. He's pleased that his employers have confidence in him to run both, and knows the abilities of the members of the sales teams well.
"It takes enthusiasm and passion to do well in sales, and a bit of a drive and willingness to get on," the manager says.
Product knowledge is crucial, too - and he's confident the sales teams have the requisite qualities.
"They are all guys I have worked with for a long time, and we work very well together.
"And we have Phil Hughes, who's the best salesperson in Ireland for Harvey Norman, on the team."
Eamon himself has now joined the buying team of Harvey Norman and has been on trips to learn about Italy's furniture industry - the country is "renowned as a world leader in leather products", he tells me.
He certainly knows his stuff.
Frankie and Benny’s, Boucher Place, Belfast
Salt Beef Bagel £7.95
2 Diet Pepsi £5.30
American hot 10 inch pizza £9.95