Watch out Ikea - Tiger's on the prowl

By Candice Krieger, February 3, 2011
Philip Bier, MD of Tiger UK, says the chain could grow into something like Ikea

Philip Bier, MD of Tiger UK, says the chain could grow into something like Ikea

It is hardly surprising that Philip Bier's Tiger UK value retail chain is being compared to Ikea. Founded in Scandinavia ten years ago, Tiger calls itself is a "variety store" selling home furnishings. It is active in eight countries, including the UK where there are ambitions to open 40 stores by 2012 - and eventually one on every high street.

And while the Danish group may still be, by Mr Bier's own admission, "tiny in comparison" to Ikea - which recently reported annual profits of €2.5bn (£2.2bn) - Mr Bier, Tiger UK's managing director, believes it is only a matter of time before it grows on the same scale.

The Dane says: "Tiger has the potential to grow into something like Ikea. It might take ten years or so but the concept is there.

"We are very much being compared to Ikea in terms of our offering. We are more Ikea marketplace than Ikea furniture." Tiger's main range is home and kitchen furnishings, in addition to toys, stationery and Scandinavian food. Many of their products are made in Denmark. All itmes are priced between £1 and £20 - 90 per cent of its products are own-brand.

"Tiger and IKEA are challenging the notion that low price equals a shabby shopping experience. IKEA is dominating the lower-priced furniture market. I hope we will be on every high street one day."

The demand is certainly there. There has been a significant increase in UK sales of Scandinavian goods in the past 12 months. According to reports, sales of Scandinavian homeware, food and clothing are now worth £300m a year. Some retailers have experienced a 400 per cent increase in products stocked from Scandanavian and Baltic counties, compared to the same time last year.

What's fueling the trend? "I think there's been a general surge in Scandi interest. The Stieg Larsson books and subsequent films are driving this." Last year, Copenhagen-based restaurant Noma, was named the best in the world. "This has created a massive interest in Danish food. Have you ever tried a real Danish lunch? Can't be beaten."

He adds: "Scandinavia has great credibility in the UK. Scandi products are trusted and associated with style, quality, innovation - and high prices. Now, Tiger and IKEA are delivering this at prices that customers can afford, making Scandanavian design more accessible."

Mr Bier, 45, joined Tiger six years ago to open the group in the UK. He remortgaged his house to take a 50 per cent stake in the company - the balance is in the hands of Danish parent company Zebra. The group has had a good few months. It has been named a finalist in the Oracle Retail Week awards for 2011 and sales at the five Tiger stores that have been trading for over a year were up 4.43 per cent compared to the Christmas period in 2009. "Like all retailers, our sales were affected by the snow, and our north Finchley store, the only store located on a high street not a shopping centre, was particularly affected. But as a whole, 2010 has been a successful year."

Tiger UK turned over £6.1m in 2010 - up from £4.3m the year before, and £2.5m in 2008.They recently secured a £350,000 loan from banking partner Lloyds TSB Commercial to help fund expansion.

"Tiger is kind of flying now and we are really planning to accelerate."

How is it managing to stay ahead of the game when similar high-street stores such as Woolworths fell victim to the recession? "Woolworths used to be our main competitor, and with them gone, there isn't anybody on the UK high street that has the range of offering we have."

But he acknowledges there is competition - Robert Dyas for home appliances and WH Smith for stationery. What about the other Scandinavian stores such as Day Birger, Acne and Bo Concept? "They aren't rivals because we don't operate in same market place. Clas Oleson and IKEA are much greater competitors."

Tiger, which sponsors AC Whetstone in the Maccabi Junior Football League, has stores in north Finchley, Basingstoke, Wandsworth, Hammersmith, Ealing, Croydon, Basingstoke and Stratford, and Mr Bier is eyeing up potential new sites throughout the UK.

Before Tiger, Mr Bier spent more than 20 years as an architectural and interiors photographer. "I started talking to the Tiger founder and felt that it was a brand that would do well in the UK so I wanted to get involved." In 2005, he opened Tiger's first UK store. Internationally, the Group has 62 stores across Denmark, Iceland, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

Last updated: 2:16pm, February 3 2011