Whether it’s noir detectives, Faroese knits or home furnishings, Scandinavian chic has never been cooler. Now the Danes have even given the pound shop a Nordic makeover and British shoppers can’t get enough.
It’s lunchtime on Monday and trade in Tiger’s central London store is brisk as office workers browse rainbow-coloured displays of toys, stationery and hobby paraphernalia such as knitting needles and glitter glue. With 80% of the products selling for Â£5 or less, the concept is Danish design at Woolworths’ prices.
“It’s a bit like an Ikea marketplace on speed,” says Maureen Hinton, retail analyst at Conlumino, describing a chain which is going from strength to strength in the UK. “There’s great design and it’s cheap so you are always tempted to buy something. Also the loud music means it always seems cheerful.”
Founded by Lennart Lajboschitz, who started out running a market stall in Copenhagen’s Israel Square, Tiger was conceived as a pound shop. Its name is a play on “tier” which is Danish slang for 10 kroner (Â£1.10). With the ethos to sell “stylish own branded products in a fun environment at astonishing low prices”, it quickly earned the nickname of the “posh Poundland” when it entered the UK.
“Just because it is affordable, it doesn’t need to be nasty,” explains Tiger UK managing director Philip Bier, a Dane who moved to the UK to study photography at the London College of Printing and never left. “Scandinavia really appeals to Britain, whether it’s on television or the high street. The bulk of what we sell costs Â£1 to Â£3. There are no gimmicks, no loyalty cards or sales, we don’t do 99p. It’s just very clean.”
UK shoppers have been quick to embrace Swedish and Danish brands with the likes of HM, Cos and Clas Ohlson now established high street names. After years working as a photographer, Bier became increasingly convinced that Tiger could be a hit in Britain. He risked everything by taking out a second mortgage to open the first UK store in Basingstoke in 2005.
“I met Lajboschitz socially on and off in Copenhagen and we thought it was a brand that would do really well,” he says. “My wife was pregnant and I remember waking up and thinking I’m going to be a 60-year-old photographer if or when my daughter goes to university. I liked the idea of her leaving university without any debt and that wasn’t going to happen if I remained a photographer.”
After a slow burn start, which saw the company experiment with its products and locations, the retailer has now hit its stride with Bier’s risk paying off handsomely. Last year, pre-tax profits at Tiger Retail UK jumped more than 60% to Â£2.5m while sales increased from Â£14.7m to Â£21.3m.
Tiger’s Danish parent company Zebra has divided the UK into territories, with Bier in charge of expansion within a 60-mile radius of London. The Scottish chain is run out of Denmark, while Wales and the Midlands are also partnerships that knit together to create a 34-strong chain. Bier sees huge potential within his dominion: “The Danish market is five million people and 64 stores â there must be a population of 25 million in my area so there is plenty to go at. We will be expanding rapidly throughout 2014, with new stores opening in urban affluent and fashionable high streets and shopping centres.”
Bier believes Tiger can become as influential as Ikea, which changed the way British homes looked when it arrived with its trendy pine furniture and traditional folk print cushions in the late 80s. Tiger, which is closing in on 300 stores in 20 countries, also has more financial firepower after Lajboschitz sold a controlling stake to Swedish private equity firm EQT two years ago.
“Originally we went head-to-head with pound stores,” says Bier. “Now we are a variety store heading towards becoming a design store. We have started to employ our own product designers now. When we first opened we were selling end of lines we bought from factories and there was no consistent look to the stores. That has completely changed.”
With more than 43,000 shops lying empty in the UK, high streets are crying out for new retailers and with many Britons yet to feel the recovery in their pocket, value retailers such as Poundland, Wilkinsons and Home Bargains are having a moment in the sun. “Our timing is really good in that there is a need for real shops on the high street,” says Bier. “We are somewhere people can enjoy going to spend a few quid and leave without having to think too much about it.”
Instead of the usual variety store range of sweets and cleaning fluids, Tiger’s top sellers include jumbo packs of herbs and spices, craft materials and retro toys such as water pistols and hula hoops. “You go somewhere like Poundland for essentials but Tiger is more of an indulgence – and one that you can afford to indulge,” says Hinton. “If you are hosting a kids birthday party or putting together gift bags, you can afford to buy the things there and what is more people will actually like them. The design is a really important part of that.”
The Tiger aesthetic serves only to reinforce the Britain’s rose-tinted view of Scandinavia where minimalist Scandi home furnishings is the icing on the cake of cheap childcare and proper cycle lanes. “My (British) wife asked me why are all the people in Denmark middle-class?” says Bier. His answer, offered with a smile: “It’s just the way it is.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
Posh pound shop: Tiger sinks its claws into UK high street