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New stores sparkle for Chisholm Hunter

CHISHOLM Hunter, the Glasgow-based jewellery chain, has predicted lifting turnover by as much as a third to £40 million in its next financial year.

VALUABLE ASSETS: Managing director Harry Brown said he aimed to trade in top locations, Picture: Colin Templeton
VALUABLE ASSETS: Managing director Harry Brown said he aimed to trade in top locations, Picture: Colin Templeton

The diamond specialist is forecasting the growth on the back of three store openings this year.

It will open a fourth unit in Glasgow's Argyle Arcade after taking on the former Watches of Switzerland unit, and is preparing to open two in London in spring, having secured premises in Bromley and Kingston.

The openings will increase the jeweller's estate to from 17 to 20 stores.

Managing director Harry Brown said the business will "comfortably exceed" the £30m turnover target set for its current financial year, which closes at the end of March.

With the boost brought by the new stores, which will increase staff numbers by 30 to about 250, he has lifted that target by a further £10m for the following year.

The most recent accounts available for the firm at Companies House show Chisholm Hunter made profits of £1.25m for the year ended March 31, 2012, on turnover of £16.4m.

Mr Brown, who has not set a target for store numbers, said: "We're forging ahead. In last 12 months, there has been a circa £5m investment from us, between the stock and the sites."

The stores operated by Chisholm Hunter are a mix of freehold and leasehold properties.

It acquired the freehold of the site in Bromley, located a 17 minute journey on the fast train from Victoria, from a long-established jeweller, EW Payne, which had traded there for around 100 years.

Mr Brown said: "You can't really buy within the big shopping malls because they tend to be owned by the big institutions, but it's just on the corner heading into the malls. So it is a very prime spot."

The gemologist, who took over Chisholm Hunter when it had one store 26 years ago, said the store opening strategy was driven by a desire to trade in "leading UK locations".

He did not rule out opening further stores in Scotland, but conceded there are fewer potential locations because of its current coverage. One its most recent launches saw it open a store in the former Lime Blue outlet in Glasgow's Silverburn shopping centre.

Mr Brown, who runs the business with wife Tracey, said: "That was a great opportunity. We are very pleased with how that came together. Again, that was a jewellers what was closing. Last year, we also took over another one in the Argyle Arcade, which was the Berrys unit."

Asked whether the current economic climate was favourable to finding sites, he added: "Well, it is a challenge, but I think the softer economy has probably helped us because landlords are being more selective in looking for tenants. They are very much driven by healthy balance sheets."

Mr Brown revealed the business had enjoyed double-digit percentage sales growth over Christmas and expressed his confidence that the economy has turned a corner.

He noted the low interest rates, which have been a feature of the downturn, had made favourable to some consumers, chiefly because it has meant lower mortgage payments.

Stating that Chisholm Hunter had started the current calendar year strongly, he said: "Market sentiment is significantly improved in my opinion and London, again, seems to be driving things in the UK.

"The key performance indicators of the economy are improving, and people may not yet see that in their pockets. But I think as employment increases, and the economy gets better, [people] know that is going to lead to a better future. As the economy gets better, there is more to go around."

On September's independence referendum, Mr Brown said the uncertainty over key issues such as which currency an independent Scotland would pursue makes it difficult to make contingencies. He also said it was hard to gauge the likely affect on the business in the event of a Yes vote.

However, he expressed the view that the UK's decision to not join the Euro had proved to be wise in retrospect, and highlighted the fact southern European countries such as Greece and Spain had been unable to devalue their currencies in order to drive tourism traffic.

Mr Brown said: "Our wish would be that a business-friendly would be maintained whatever the outcome of the vote.

"We hope that our excellent relationships with our English colleagues will remain unaffected.

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