From the top · 3 August 2016

Tiger’s UK MD urges small business owners to trust people more

TCR_Philip_portrait_2Despite acknowledging that there will always be people who abuse trust, Philip Bier thinks not putting faith in people – both staff and consumers – ultimately holds small business back from possible growth.

The business leader is at the helm of growth in London and the South East of England of Tiger, a Danish retailer which is looking to fill a gap on the high street left by Woolworth’s when it finally pulled the plug in 2008.

Located in areas of high footfall, Tiger sells products raining from those for the kitchen to those for the garden. It was named on Alix Partners’ 2016 growth retailer report of the ten fastest-growing retailers in Britain, joining the likes of Whistles and Space NK, and UK sales jumped 69 per cent to £62m last year.

As such, Bier has developed a pretty decent understanding of what a typical UK customer looks like and where new Tiger stores are best located. Based in areas with lots of passing possible consumers, areas which are also urban, trendy and populated by those with disposable income, the retailer plans to open 16 new stores before the end of 2016 – creating 160 new jobs.

Using an example of a particular new opening, Bier had some interesting insight into thinking specifically about how a brand expresses itself in a given area. “When we opened on Kings Road I was aware we had a shop in an area with perhaps the highest disposable income, and I wondered how that would express itself in a Tiger shop.

“I was there for the opening day, watching what has going on, and noticed a young girl, perhaps 17, buying our £7 headphones. This is a good sale for us, but she also bought them in every colour – and I realised that is how Tiger expresses itself [on Kings road].

“Another woman came in and bought one of our record players and some LPs. That was definitely an impulse buy, as there is no way she went out intending to buy that.”

He described the Tiger brand as “very versatile”, with stores in less affluent areas doing just as well because it comes down to convenience. Many of the items stocked in Tiger would previously only have been available by getting in a car and driving to a big shopping destination, like IKEA, but are now available on the high street.

Bier compared Tiger to well-known airlines easyJet and Ryanair. “They get you there cheaply and safely. If you want a free sandwich then go with British Airways, but it’ll be the most expensive sandwich you’ve ever had. But the British also won’t accept cheap and nasty.”

Tiger Oxford Street Ad

Business Advice wanted to know what advice he had for small business owners in the retail space who perhaps only have one or two locations. What should they be doing to streamline operations, attract new customers and ultimately grow?

“Trust people, don’t be afraid of trusting,” he urged. “You will get some who abuse that occasionally, but if you don’t trust people you’ll struggle over time.

“In my experience, I run Tiger by having trust. But those that abuse that won’t make me change my mind at all. If you want to develop the business you can’t hang on to everything yourself.”

Bier recommends trusting, monitoring what people do, feeding back but ultimately not micro managing. Delegation allows a small business to flourish, and you might realise that your staff are better than you at certain things, he revealed.

Pricing is another important element. While the vast majority of Tiger’s products are less than £5, the retailer does not thrust this in the face of shoppers. With a Danish approach to pricing, making it discreet and letting consumers discover it for themselves and work out if it’s a good deal, and then combining it with a memorable shopping experience, keeps them coming back.

Tiger’s UK MD and his store managers take great interest in being aware of factors such as weather, local events and distinct times of the year to determine what products are on the shelves at any one time. Knowing when a local school is having a fair, if university students are about to head back to dorms or whether there is an expected downpour in the coming few days mean products can fly off the shelves.

Despite Tiger being an operation with 75 UK stores, and 605 around the world, there are some good lessons to be learnt for micro and small business retailers. Having the faith to delegate to the right staff, and not be worried about possible abuse of trust, and working out what pricing and product offering works for a particular area are Bier’s two pearls of wisdom for small business readers.

If, as a small business owner, you want more insight from a retail heavyweight then check out our interview with Tangle Teezer CEO Matt Lumb – who said: “Innovation has been at the heart of everything we’ve done.”

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Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.


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