Zara reveals record sales but still no plans for closed Belfast store
The owner of high street fashion giant Zara has rung up record sales and profits but uncertainty still surrounds the operations of its Belfast branch, which has been closed since a fire at the neighbouring Primark store.
Spanish retailer Inditex reported a 3% rise in net income to €1.4bn (£10.7bn) for the six months to July 1 - its highest ever half-year results.
Like-for-like sales rose by 4% and were higher across all regions including Europe and the UK, although this marks a slowdown on the 6% growth seen a year earlier.
Zara, which is the world's largest clothing retailer, has one store in Northern Ireland on Donegall Place in Belfast. Inditex also operates two other stores in Belfast under its Stradivarius and Pull & Bear brands.
Two weeks ago the three-storey Zara unit was forced to close after a fire that destroyed Primark's Banks Building.
And the store could be closed for up to four months as work is undertaken to ensure the structural integrity of Bank Buildings. Fashion retailer DV8 was also forced to closed but has since relocated to CastleCourt. Zara would not comment on whether it had similar plans.
A spokeswoman said: "I'm afraid we don't have any official comments on the Belfast store at this time. However, I can say that we continue to pay the staff at the store. It is also worth knowing that online continues with home and drop point delivery."
It is believed that clothing in the store will have incurred smoke damage but Inditex said that existing lines in the unit would not be destroyed.
A fashion and retail expert here believes the stock could be rotated to other stores. Maureen Collins, course director MSc Fashion and Textile Retail Management at Ulster University, said it was not clear whether staff were being allowed into the store to move stock to other Zara stores in the UK or the Republic.
"I would suspect that would be the preferred option as stock rotation in groups like Zara is high, responding quickly to fashion trends and micro-trends.
"In my opinion, if the stock is not allowed to be moved to other stores, due to health and safety concerns, then it is more likely that this stock will be discounted during the normal Christmas sales and perhaps even redistributed to other stores."
One Northern Ireland commercial property professional believes there are no units suitable to re-home a store of Zara's size in Belfast.
He said: "The problem is, we have one Zara in Northern Ireland and that's a loss. People travelled from all over for the store. Primark, McDonald's and Tesco can be found in other parts of the city."