Belfast Telegraph

Moda boss steps up to shoe retail challenge

By Rachel Martin

The shoe market in Northern Ireland is much stronger than in other parts of the UK, designer shoe retail boss Gavin Dunlop has said.

The Scottish-born owner of Moda Shoes set up his first store 16 years ago in Newtownards.

Over the past decade the business has expanded into a chain with four shops in Newtownards, Bangor, Ballymena and Victoria Square in Belfast.

The store's expansion has been driven by demand and Mr Dunlop puts the company's success down to good customer service and offering a unique selection of fashionable shoes.

He said: "In England, it's all the same shops. Independent shoe retailers aren't as common and they all have the same ranges.

"Ireland north and south is quite unique because the big makers do not come across in the same way they do to other parts of the country.

"Ladies don't realise that they are very lucky over here. There isn't the same choice elsewhere in the UK."

Mr Dunlop previously worked for an outdoor pursuits clothes firm and another footwear retailer. He enjoyed what he did and when an in-law worked as a rep for Bally, a high-end Swiss shoe designer, seeing the samples around the house whetted his appetite for the designer shoe market.

Mr Dunlop added that in some towns his sales had not been affected by the economic downturn. He said: "There is still scope for expansion. However, most towns now are well catered for by local independent shoe businesses that have their own ranges.

"I realised there was a gap in the market for a quality shop. Ards had a great catchment area and needed a good shoe shop."

Today, Moda is one of the few independent retailers in Victoria Square.

Mr Dunlop opened a store in Ballymena after realising he was attracting shoppers from the town to his shop in Belfast.

Despite the brand's popularity, opening in Victoria Square wasn't in the plans for Moda. It was only when the lease on his Lisburn Road store in south Belfast expired, and no agreement had been made to renew it, that Mr Dunlop took the brave decision to open up in the luxury shopping complex.

In other areas, the opening of new stores has been less dramatic. The Bangor store opened as a concession store 11 years ago in Menarys.

"It takes out a lot of the risk," Mr Dunlop said. "It was a good way of dipping our toe into that particular town by minimising overheads like rates.

"We made an agreement with the local department shop and we are able to work on a six-month rolling contract."

Moda boss steps up to shoe retail challenge

Belfast Telegraph