Menarys is back on track after it posts pre-tax profits of over £160k
The family-owned retail chain Menarys has moved back into profit after several loss-making years that resulted in store closures and debt restructuring.
The company posted modest pre-tax profits of £162,479 for the year ending January 2016.
That was a turnaround from losses of more than £910,000 the previous year. Turnover was slightly down, at £20.5m.
Last year saw the closure of stores in Portadown and Dublin and a reduction in staff numbers, down from 361 to 338.
"We had a tough time and the last couple of years have been very important for us in terms of restructuring bank debt and improving our trading performance," said director Stephen McCammon.
"The team have worked hard and now we're back on track. We always believed that we could turn it around and it's a credit to our staff who really helped us to get here."
In 2014, Menarys entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), a procedure used by firms which are under financial pressure.
"We decided to close two loss-making stores as part of the CVA and that was very difficult because of the people involved," Mr McCammon said.
"Primarily, the reason for closure was because of the rents: we could not get them reduced and we were left with no other option. When we reached that point we had done all that we could and closure was for the greater good of the business."
Menarys, established in Dungannon 1923 by Mr McCammon's great-great uncle, now has 17 stores in towns across Northern Ireland, plus two cross-border outlets, in Carrick-on-Shannon and Letterkenny.
The chain specialises in fashion, beauty and household goods, and its outlets feature in-store concessions including Topshop, Oasis, Wallis and Dorothy Perkins. Unlike some major rivals, it has a very small online presence, but there are plans for web retailing.
"We're starting to look at growth again," Mr McCammon said. "We've been experimenting with an online bridal list service and we anticipate that we will go down that road in the not too distant future.
"The high street is still very important to us and even in towns where there's a lot of vacant retail space, our stores are still trading well. We like to see ourselves as local retail champions."
The director revealed that the company is looking for locations for new stores in Northern Ireland and predicted further growth this year as its debt problems recede.
"We will make further improvement, although the market is still rather difficult," he added. "The Brexit vote has brought some uncertainty into the marketplace. The currency situation is not impacting on us at this stage, but all the major retailers expect that there will be price inflation in the clothing sector." Large-scale refurbishments are under way in the Newtownards and Dungannon stores which will both have new cafes operated by the locally-owned Bob & Berts chain.
Fashion retailer M&Co is moving into the Bangor, Cookstown and Omagh shops, and the beauty brand Bare Minerals will start trading in the Bangor and Newtownards stores.
"Our buying team are continually looking to widen the product range," Mr McCammon said.
"Customers want us to stay fresh, while still offering quality products and good service. That's the key for us and it's been reinforced by our customer focus groups.
"We've opened beauty, blow dry and nail bars in some stores and later this year a mobile phone partner is going into one of our shops. That's an exciting development."