'Shoemaker to the stars' Robinson's in major retail expansion
ONE of Ireland's most prestigious shoe companies is expanding its operation into Belfast city centre - and has revealed ambitious plans to open further stores in a number of major UK locations.
Robinson's Shoemakers of Carrickfergus, whose artisan products are worn by stars of screen, sport and business, is launching a new retail branch in Belfast's Queen's Arcade, beside Lunn's Jewellers.
It marks a six-figure investment by the firm, and will initially create six jobs.
And it will provide Robinson's with a significant 'bricks and mortar' presence, given that more than 90 per cent of its wares are currently sold online.
"We're excited about this venture, which has been in the offing for some time now," says Robin Stewart, chief executive of the company, which has been in business since 1954.
Robinson's Shoemakers is the biggest retailer of men's quality shoes in Ireland and one of the top UK sellers online, with its exquisite collection including brands such as Barker, Loake, Cheaney, Anatomic, Alfred Sargent and Tricker's, as well as its own off-the-shelf hand-made Robinson shoes.
"We're a fast-growing company with two divisions - shop retailing and internet sales," says Robin, who designs the Robinson's brand and who is among the few remaining skilled shoemakers in Northern Ireland.
"To date our retail offer has been relatively modest, operating from a small shop in Carrickfergus.
"But given the growth of our online sales, we're now one of the top three retailers in the world for quality footwear.
"That has prompted the decision to expand into the high street.
"We're beginning the expansion with Belfast in two weeks' time.
"We've already recruited a number of enthusiastic and sales-driven staff to head the retail team in Belfast.
"But this is only part of an ambitious growth plan, because I intend opening in a number of other cities across the UK and also Dublin," Robin added.
Robinson's - who design and manufacture bespoke shoes for certain customers (the most expensive so far, running into several thousand pounds, has been a pair of boots made from Cordovan horse leather) - has had commissions for its brogues from a clutch of celebrities.
They include Reggae Reggae sauce creator Levi Roots, Game of Thrones actor Ian McElhinney, singer Brian Kennedy, boxers Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes, and the Ulster rugby squad.
Robin says the new Belfast store will also provide a specialist fitting service, insisting the vast majority of men have been wearing shoes the wrong size and width.
"Most men actually wear a shoe size one and half sizes too large," he said.
"We've even customer who was actually wearing shoes three sizes too big.
"This is because they probably haven't had their feet properly measured in length and breadth since their childhood, so they haven't been fitted properly."