opens amid debate


OfficeStore Europe has officially launched its first store under the brand, amid industry scepticism over the company’s ambitious plans including the goal of 200 stores within three years.

The first 1,200 ft store, located in Belfast city centre, stocks a range of over 1,800 products including major brands such as Bic, Staedtler, Fellowes, 3M and 5 Star. A venture with franchisee Ulster Business, the store remained open during its recent refurbishment, which took four weeks to complete.

OfficeStore’s managing director James Wilson said: "The store has taken a great deal of work by all involved and has required commitment from the team in Belfast and here in Staines to see it through to completion. Design-wise, we have achieved what we wanted to achieve and so far business has been good."

There are already another six stores planned for Northern Ireland, and franchisees have already been signed up for east and west Scotland, the south-west of England and central London, said the company.

In a side issue, OfficeStore has been accused of using parts of the retail model of former prospective partner Office 1 Superstore International. OfficeStore’s parent company XPD planned on forming a retail franchise model with Office 1 in 2004 before the proposed partnership was called off by mutual agreement in December.

As well as the look and colour of OfficeStore, which some industry insiders say looks similar to Office 1 outlets, eyebrows have been raised over the company’s claims on its website that "there is so much to think about if you are opening a store, that you will be grateful that the OfficeStore team has done it literally hundreds of times before".

Furthermore, the company adds: "Nothing is left to chance and in following the system you are following hundreds of successful franchisees before you."

Wilson clarifies that the website in no way implies that it is OfficeStore that has opened franchise operations hundreds of times before. "The website suggests that our shopfitters have refitted the shops hundreds of times before, and when we talk about the hundreds of previous successful franchisees, we are talking about general franchises, not franchises we have done," he told OPI.

"Myself and [Office 1 CEO] Mark Baccash both entered into the franchise with the best of intentions. It is not XPD’s fault that the partnership broke down. The model we had was not suited to the UK market. It works better in Ireland which is more franchise-friendly."

On OfficeStore’s plans for the future, he continued: "The initial plan for 28 stores in the UK and Ireland this year is well in progress to hit target. We never thought it would be straightforward or easy, but we are pleased with our progress."