Heatons eyes new department store openings across Northern Ireland and Republic
The boss of one of Ireland's largest department stores has said that he is looking at opening new stores in Northern Ireland and the Republic in the next two years.
John O'Neill was speaking as it emerged that Heatons has invested £1.5m in a new lorry fleet to service 52 stores on the island.
The 33 new Heatons branded vehicles will go into operation in mid-November, and will serve the 10 Heatons stores and 15 Sports Direct stores in Northern Ireland.
Newcastle United boss and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has a majority share in Heatons, which employs more than 650 people in Northern Ireland alone.
The trailers order includes 19 single box van trailers, nine double-deck box van trailers and five double-deck box van trailers.
The trailers have been designed and built by SDC Trailers of Toomebridge, one of the largest such manufacturers in Europe and have been purchased through Belfast-based firm HireCo Trailer Rentals on a five-year lease including maintenance.
"We decided we wanted to renew the fleet, which is now over 10 years old," Mr O'Neill said. "We went out to tender, we went outside of Northern Ireland, we looked at firms in the rest of the UK and the Republic but the best deal was through SDC and HireCo. We are very pleased to be able to invest back into Northern Ireland and put back into the local economy here."
And the expansion does not end with vehicles, with Mr O'Neill saying that properties for sale through the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama could present lucrative opportunities for growth.
"We're opening a new store in Dublin next month and we are actively looking at opening two or three more premises in Northern Ireland and the Republic," he said.
"There are a lot of opportunities out there. Nama is putting distressed properties back on the market, retail space is coming back into play again and there are opportunities popping up all over the place. We hope to have two or three more stores in the near future and we are looking at locations."
Mr O'Neill said that a mixture of diversity and loyal custom was key to growth in a difficult trading period for many retailers.
"We have invested in the fleet at this time because we are doing well and we are growing and we need to serve our stores," he said.
"We didn't pop up as a discount retailer overnight and we were offering very good value before Aldi and Lidl were ever heard of.
"We are always increasing our buying and sourcing teams. We want to keep the offering interesting for customers," he added.