Northern Ireland customers count the cost as World of Furniture shops close
A Northern Ireland furniture business has been wound up as angry customers who claim to have lost thousands of pounds gathered outside the company's shops.
The shutters were pulled down for the last time on Tuesday at World of Furniture's three stores in Belfast, Lisburn and Londonderry.
But customers, many of whom gathered outside the Cityside Retail Park branch yesterday, say they have already handed over money for furniture which has failed to arrive.
Around 170 customers have been left short-changed, with the High Court issuing a winding-up order against World of Furniture (NI) Ltd yesterday.
The Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) - now the Department of Finance - confirmed that it initiated the court proceedings after the company failed to pay its rates bill.
A spokeswoman for the department said: "The winding-up petition was in relation to unpaid rates on which judgments had been obtained in the Magistrates Courts on February 18, March 4 and August 16, 2016."
Disgruntled customers have claimed that the company was dealing almost exclusively in cash since the end of last year.
Geraldine McCabe said she had ordered a sofa from the Belfast branch back in October of last year and handed over £1,800 to the company.
She told the Belfast Telegraph: "When I ordered it they told me it would be a lot of weeks, come December I was told it would be here by Christmas, so I got rid of my suite at home.
"It ended up not coming and right up until yesterday I was told that I would definitely get it this week." Ms McCabe used her debit card to make the payment and said she doesn't think she will be able to claw back any money.
James Lynch, who resigned as a director of the company at the beginning of this month, told the Belfast Telegraph that he was the landlord of the business premises and a supplier to the firm. But Mr Lynch said that he had no involvement with the running of the business, which was registered at Cityside Retail Park.
Single mum-of-two Samantha Blaine said that she paid a £250 cash deposit in October but no sofa arrived. "I was offered an alternative sofa as a loan for over Christmas, but only if I paid the balance in full."
Gerard O'Hanlon, who was also a director of the furniture shop, expressed regret at the circumstances leading up to the failure of the company. "We are very sorry that this has happened, it's the last thing we wanted but it became obvious that we couldn't sustain the company.
"We had been switching our card machine provider so the machines were down for a while as they were being changed, that is the truth," he said. Mr O'Hanlon and fellow director Simon Harris posted a statement on a Facebook group where aggrieved customers had exchanged stories. "All outstanding customers will be contacted by the administrators as soon as possible. World of Furniture would like to sincerely apologise to all customers that have been affected or are at a loss due to the company closure."
Mr O'Hanlon told the Daily Mirror that the company had kept trading in the hope that things would improve.
"We did our best to keep the company running and we hoped that January, traditionally the most lucrative trading month of the year for furniture businesses, would allow us to breathe, but it wasn't to be. The trade really fell away and we could see the writing on the wall," he said.