Belfast Telegraph

Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis warns of Belfast's 'barrier to doing business'

Rates and rents make life difficult, says tycoon

By John Mugrew

Former Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis has claimed there is a "barrier to doing business" in Belfast which would stop him from bringing his other retail businesses to Northern Ireland.

He's finally launching his first Boux Avenue lingerie store at Belfast's Victoria Square retail centre this week.

But he told the Belfast Telegraph it was difficult to strike a balance between the cost of retail rates, the level of rent charged and obtaining high level of footfall when looking for a suitable location.

He said it had been a four-and-a-half year struggle to find the right spot - taking as long to find a store here as in London's swanky Oxford Street.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 56-year-old multi-millionaire bemoaned the state of Belfast's retail market, and said it was one of the most difficult areas to set up, adding that "somebody, somewhere has got to wake up and smell the coffee".

"Belfast was one of the areas that we know well, and would love to have opened up earlier," he said.

"But surprisingly, it's quite difficult to find a site at the right place, at the right price.

"It was always on our list of early stores of options, but we have not been able to find a site."

He said previous businesses had "traded very, very well" in Belfast, and the city was always on his radar for a high street venture.

Mr Paphitis, who is said to be worth more £200m, is already well versed in the world of retail lingerie

He bought the UK and Ireland franchise of Canadian label La Senza in 1998 and sold it to private equity firm Lion Capital in 2006.

The business entered administration for the second time just last year.

"La Senza was hugely successful. We traded exceptionally well in Belfast. We have no concerns about trading in Belfast," he said.

But Mr Paphitis said: "I opened a store on Oxford Street. Oxford Street was also on our list when we launched, and it's taken me four-and-a-half years to find the store. This week, we are opening in Belfast, which is also on our list, and it's taken just as long to find the right place. And Oxford Street is one of the premier shopping streets in the world...that's how hard Belfast has been."

He said the difficulty in finding a site would put retailers off setting up in future.

And as a result, he's not keen on expanding his stationery chain Ryman to Northern Ireland for the very same reasons.

"Not at the moment, for all the reasons," he said.

"Shopping habits have changed substantially, more people shop online, price compare.

"It's difficult enough to be a bricks and mortar retailer, it really is tricky, and hard work, but you create a lot of employment."

"It's tricky as it is, without other people putting barriers in the way as well."

Mr Paphitis is also growing his latest venture, electrical and hardware retailer Robert Dyas, which was founded in Co Meath 140 years ago.

And speaking about his eight years on Dragons' Den, he said it was "time to move on".

"It was a great time, and a great introduction to television as well. I've met some brilliant people, I've made some good investments - I've made the good, bad and ugly."

Criona Collins, head of retail agency at Lambert Smith Hampton said a retailer's choice of location is "crucial" to their success, with businesses also benefiting from the recent rates revaluation, which adjusted the yearly tax firms must pay.

Belfast Telegraph