Sale of 26 stores leads to £7m profit for Argento parent company
The Northern Ireland operation behind high street jewellery chain Argento last year made a £7m profit from the sale of 26 UK stores to Danish jewellery giant Pandora, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
It leaves the firm founded by Strabane man Pete Boyle with a portfolio of 26 outlets, with most located here.
The May 2018 deal, which garnered £7m for Argento's parent owner Denvir Holdings, was reflected in the latest annual report by the company run by Mr Boyle and his wife Ciara Denvir.
The home-grown jewellery group, which includes the Argento and Pyrrha brands, saw a slight dip in its annual turnover from £52.1m to £51.2m during the 12 months to June 30, 2018.
But pre-tax profits surged by 86% from £7.7m to £14.3m on the back of the one-off £7m brought in from the Pandora store sale.
Mr Boyle, who had been Pandora's largest partner in the UK, said the Danish group had taken the strategic decision to buy back stores from franchise operators across the UK and Ireland.
"We are still in control of all the 10 Pandora shops and five concept stores in Northern Ireland," he said.
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"It's just that we have sold the Scottish and English concept stores back to Pandora.
"That has reduced our overall store count to 26 going into 2018/19 and it inflates the profits of 2017/18 by around £7m.
"We were coming to the end of our franchise contract.
"We didn't really have a lot of choice, but we were happy with the deal."
Argento was among the Belfast traders hit by the August 2018 Primark fire.
The blaze forced the closure of its flagship Royal Avenue store, prompting the company to open a pop-up operation in Cornmarket.
Mr Boyle said the impact of the fire came amid a difficult period for high street retail.
"We're as worried as anybody else. We're seeing declines in sales in most locations. Our jewellery is doing okay, I think we're only down about 4% for this year.
"We're pretty happy with that number actually, considering what's going on generally in the retail sector."
The Argento founder said while the company's online turnover has now reached £6m, the internet remains a very challenging and competitive market.
"We won't give up on stores. We have low debt in the company, we have good leases and we don't have any loss-making stores," he said.
"Our view at the minute is to sit tight and look after our costs, train our staff and really try and defend what we have. It's not a time for us to expand."
However, Mr Boyle said if the company does open any new stores, it will likely be in England, under its growing Nomination brand.
"Our strength in 20 years of trading has always been to spot the next product and get on it before anyone else. We are doing extremely well with Nomination. It's in the very early stages of growth in the UK, so we are looking at the option of more Nomination branded stores there."
Pandora's decision to buy back stores from franchise operators came during a disappointing performance in 2018. Results for the company last year showed like-for like sales dipping by 4% for the year, and dropping a further 7% in the final quarter of 2018. Pandora's global operation had stood at 7,800 during 2017.
In February the Danish group announced plans to save £141m by 2022 by cutting back on promotions, buying back slow selling stock and investing in retail locations.