Toy shop giant The Entertainer plans 'at least five' Northern Ireland outlets
THE UK's largest toy retailer wants to open at least five stores in Northern Ireland as part of plans to grow the business outside Britain.
And the expansion of The Entertainer - which today officially opens its first Irish outlet at CastleCourt in Belfast - will create upwards of 50 permanent jobs in the north's retail sector.
The independently owned chain was started 35 years ago but has grown rapidly over recent years.
The new store is The Entertainer's 128th in the UK, giving it more outlets than closest rivals Toys R Us and Smyths.
Speaking at the Belfast store ahead of its grand opening, the company's head of e-commerce and marketing Phil Geary, said it was just the start of its plans for the north.
After growing slowly throughout the 1980s, mainly in the south-east of England, the business has accelerated in recent years, helped by the demise of high street rivals such as Woolworths and the Early Learning Centre.
"Eighteen months ago, we didn't have a store in Scotland, now we've got five," said Mr Geary.
"We'll want to take that approach to any territory we go into.
"We hopefully will do well with this store but naturally we have to ship the stock out here and there is a lot of logistical planning behind that so one store is not the aim.
"I think there is room for at least five but I would anticipate that when our TV advertising kicks in in December this year and brings the brand to life a little bit more, there'll be more opportunities."
He revealed the chain had been on a two-year search for a suitable location in Belfast.
"It's getting the unit that fits our profile," he said.
"We try and partner with landlords that want a long-term partnership with a big brand.
"We've got circa 5,000 products in the store so we're looking for between two and four-thousand sq ft.
"The way in which the business is expanding we need that sort of square footage."
The deal on the CastleCourt store was secured by the company's founder Gary Grant.
"He wants more and he's right, this is just the start for Northern Ireland," added Mr Geary.
The retailer has taken over the unit previously occupied by Toys R Us (which has moved downstairs) - and Mr Geary said there is much to differentiate it The Entertainer from its competitors.
"We're different because we allow the children to play with the toys and that's the key," he said.
"We have a number of demonstrations going on at any given time. Also we offer tremendous value and by value, it isn't just about pricing but it's a value proposition across every single category.
"We'll have all of the latest toys so you'll see a full bay of Finding Dory but also we'll ensure children that want to access licences which maybe aren't as current will be able to do so."