Variety retailer Tiger has set itself apart from the competition with a simple but effective design. John Ryan visits its Whitgift Centre store

C roydon may be known for many things, not all of them positive, but if thoughts turn to things Scandinavian, it is probably not the first place that will spring to mind. Yet it is a fact that, if homewares are what you seek, then this is not a bad place to start, particularly if the simplicity of Scandinavian design coupled with products with odd-sounding Swedish or Danish names appeals.

First there was Ikea, located on the outskirts of the town. Then, in late 2008, Swedish male crèche-cum-hardware format Clas Ohlson decided that Croydon’s Whitgift Centre was an appropriate place for it to make its UK landfall, and finally, a little over a month ago, Tiger arrived.

Tiger? In spite of the non-Scandinavian name, this is a Danish retailer, described by its UK managing director, Philip Bier, as a “variety store”. Bier, who is Danish, says the stores are “a contemporary take on the Woolworths variety format that was popular in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s”.

Hard to miss

This is certainly one label that might be applied to the store but, equally, there are elements of Muji, WHSmith and, perhaps, Ikea’s Marketplace about the new store, which is located on the Whitgift’s upper level. Choosing a store in this kind of situation might be seen as a disadvantage by some but it is directly in front of the main escalator that bring shoppers upstairs and is therefore hard to miss.

And, when they do arrive, the first thing they’ll probably notice is that, unlike the Holland & Barrett and the recently refurbished River Island stores that are its neighbours, Tiger has a totally open front, allowing shoppers to stare deep into the 1,300 sq ft space.

The second thing that will probably be apparent is its uniformity. This is a store that uses the same equipment and lighting throughout, has graphics that are the same size and uses the same kind of pendant lights across the entire interior. If it were a supermarket, the operations people would be congratulating themselves on a modular fit-out that could be made to work in an location, irrespective of size or shape.

There is the danger it could be a little dull. But in Tiger the danger is skirted, as each of the untreated wooden fixtures on wheels that line the perimeter and form the mid-shop landscape is given a visual merchandising treatment that demands inspection.

Before doing so, shoppers will have clocked the lights, with their small shades suspended only just above the display modules in lines that run from front to back. Again, this might sound dull, but it actually works when taken in combination with the rough-and-ready nature of the display equipment.

A word or two about the fixtures. These are formed from the kind of raw, stripped pine that immediately says Scandinavia, owing to their pared-down, almost temporary appearance. And, being on wheels, they are easily remerchandised at the drop of a square, porcelain nibbles dish (yours for £2, Sir). They also function as a forward reserve since, given the generally small nature of the merchandise, they can be used as storage cupboards as well as display fixtures.

Design detail

There is also the matter of the walls and ceiling, which were installed when Tiger moved into the store. This may be a budget format, but Bier comments that everything about it follows lines that come from the Copenhagen-based company’s headquarters.

This level of attention to design detail is something of a departure for Tiger UK, which has actually been in this country since 2005 but has generally traded from temporary locations. That policy has changed over the past 12 months, resulting in the closure of two stores as Bier relocates to permanent premises and takes full ownership of the interior design. The shift in emphasis is part of Bier’s plan to bring the number of stores up to 10 by the end of this year and then to double that during 2011 and to do the same again during 2012.

If this works, it should mean that Tiger will have a 40-store portfolio within two years in high streets across the UK.

The question has to be why shoppers should choose this particular version of variety retailing from across the North Sea in preference to, say, Ikea, Clas Ohlson or any locally grown offer, for that matter.

Best price

The answer is probably an amalgamation of price and displays that seems to make you walk in and take a look around, in spite of something that tells you you shouldn’t.

With regard to price, Tiger’s stock really does meet the discounters head-on but, as Bier remarks: “We don’t do any loss leaders. Everything we sell makes a profit.”

This may be so, but it doesn’t seem to prevent the Croydon store from offering merchandise at prices that drag shoppers in from the mall. At the bottom end, there’s quite a lot at £1 or £2, rising to a fiver for better-end items and, at the top of the range, you can get a paratrooper-style bicycle helmet in bright green for £15, among other things. The sheer electicism of the range demands a totally neutral store fit-out, albeit a Danish modern one, if shoppers are not to be distracted.

The only minor variation in the same-throughout-the-store equipment template is to be found at the cash desk. Here, the height and width of the wooden units are varied to allow room for the EPoS tills and the wall behind consists of four plain white slatwalls, on which electronic and computer accessories are displayed.

And, in place of the white pendant lights, there are three lights raised in order that staff can operate within the area, each boasting a bright orange shade. Again, it’s about simplicity, but it is done with sufficient panache for the difference to be very discernible.

Finally, mention should be made of the graphics package. Dotted around the perimeter are identically sized posters, each with a white background and brightly coloured foreground. The poster advertising headphones at £2 and £5 is typical, with an array of coloured headphones and the message in black font: ‘Private concert’.

There’s a directness about the graphics that picks up what is going on in the rest of the shop and serves to illustrate why Bier is so confident about the format’s prospects in the UK.

This is indeed very similar to the Ikea Marketplace in terms of shoppers finding themselves picking up things that they really didn’t know they needed or wanted.

The difference is that all of this is in a shopping centre, obviating the requirement to head off to the edge of town and join the thronging hordes. It also offers Croydon’s shoppers an alternative to nearby Clas Ohlson.

In a previous life, Bier was an architectural photographer, but his decision to remortgage his house and take a 50% stake in Tiger UK (the balance is in the hands of Danish parent company Zebra) is a move that could be on the verge of paying dividends. Two years ago, the UK company posted sales of just £2.5m. Last year this rose to £4.3m and Tiger is on course to garner sales of £6.5m during 2010. In percentage terms, the growth is spectacular.

Tiger’s proposition is simple: cheap merchandise of the kind you might actually want to buy. Given the example of its latest store, in Croydon, this looks like one to watch.

Tiger, Croydon

  • Size 1,300 sq ft
  • Biggest UK store Basingstoke, Jubilee Place - 3,000 sq ft
  • Design Follows the template set for the Danish stores
  • UK managing director Philip Bier
  • Number of stores in the UK Six
  • Number of stores planned by 2012 40