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The Entertainer opens in Belfast CastleCourt: No Harry Potter figures, no Halloween stuff... what parents say about city's toy store with a difference

By Rachel Martin

Published 16/08/2016

The Entertainer store which has opened in CastleCourt
The Entertainer store which has opened in CastleCourt
Leah Doyle with her sons Michael (4) and Rhys (3)
Danielle Stevenson with sons Kyle (5) and Carter (1)
Eileen McCullough and granddaughter Eva (6)
Joe Walden from New York with sons Conor (8) and Eoin (11)

A toy store with a difference has just opened in Belfast - but just don't expect to find Halloween paraphernalia or Harry Potter-related goods in The Entertainer.

The UK chain's new shop in CastleCourt Shopping Centre - its first in Northern Ireland - will contain most of the merchandise youngsters look for.

But as well as refusing to stock goods related to the bespectacled wizard and the autumnal celebration of Halloween, it also closes on a Sunday.

However, the model seems to be working - the company's 2015 accounts show a £22m increase in turnover, rising from £106m to £129m the year before.

It's now the fastest growing toy store in the UK and opens one new store on average every month - each representing an investment of around £250,000.

The Entertainer was founded more than 30 years ago by husband and wife team Gary and Catherine Grant, when they opened an independent toy shop in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

Since then it has since grown to 128 stores - however, the pair have strived to keep their values at the centre of the company.

The UK independent toy chain opened its first Northern Ireland shop this weekend, but bosses say it's just the start of their plans for Northern Ireland.

Parents in Belfast were largely ambivalent to the idea of the Christian company, with most saying the chain's ethos did not matter to them - however, some said it put them off while others said it made them more likely to buy at The Entertainer.

New Yorker Joe Walden also visited rival firm Toys'R'Us. He said the firm's values didn't change how he saw it: "My son loves magic, but I guess we could just buy those things elsewhere."

Belfast woman Leah Doyle said she had been looking forward to visiting the store all week.

She said: "My son's not really into Harry Potter, so it's not something I look out for. A lot of people say they won't shop in certain chains because of their owners, but as long as the prices are better and the quality is good I'll shop wherever."

Eileen McCullough from Antrim was out shopping with granddaughter Eva. She said: "I'd still use the shop; it wouldn't stop me from going, but it would make me less likely to go - I don't like people forcing their views on to others."

However, Danielle Stevenson said: "I didn't realise it was a Christian company, but hearing that makes me more likely to go. I'm not overly religious, but I just thought that the staff were friendlier and think that the people in companies like that tend to be nicer."

The brand's first Northern Ireland store was 18 months in the planning, but it's hoped it will be the first of many.

The 3,400 sq ft store at CastleCourt in Belfast will employ up to 20 staff in peak season, with 12 permanent staff the rest of the year.

Phil Geary, marketing and e-commerce director, said: "We have a successful formula - we want to retain that local feel and to do that we need all the demo-ing and engagement in the store. While the stores are making profit for us and while there are the openings, we will just continue to open new stores.

"Unless you have an Entertainer in your town you don't know who The Entertainer is, so our next challenge is to make the brand a little more well known."

Belfast Telegraph

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