Danish Dollar Chain Tiger to Open U.S. Stores

If Ikea were a young woman with a trendy and crazy younger sister, that sister could be Tiger: a fresh, quirky, Danish take on the 99-cent store. This concept, whose name derives from the similar-sounding Danish slang word for the 10-kroner coin, has been growing rapidly in Europe and Japan. Now the chain has plans to open its first U.S. store, a 5,000-square-foot flagship in the Flatiron District of New York City, next month. All of Tiger’s new stores in Asia and the U.S. operate under the Flying Tiger Copenhagen name, because of trademark issues.

Tiger was established in 1995 by Lennart Lajboschitz and his wife, Suz, who started out as street-fair vendors selling umbrellas and sunglasses. Later they began investing the proceeds in trips to Asia to find surplus goods and novelty products. Today Tiger is a chain of 300-plus stores across some 20 countries in Scandinavia, Europe, including the U.K., and Asia — with one or two opening just about every week. In 2013 its sales hit DKR1.7 billion (about $311 million). The Lajboschitzes still choose most of the merchandise, though today they get help from an in-house design team. The assortment remains eclectic and is subject to constant experimentation. In 2012 at the opening of the first store in Japan, in Osaka, the line to get inside stretched for two hours, according to Japanese press reports.

Two factors underlie the chain’s popularity: price and design. Even in Copenhagen, nearly everything in these stores sells for less than the equivalent of $5 — not bad for a city the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks as the 10th most expensive in the world. This is particularly impressive given that only about half the products are from China; the rest come from Europe — a fourth of that from Denmark, according to EQT, the €20 billion (about $27 billion) Swedish private equity firm that owns 70 percent of Tiger and is the power behind its expansion. The store combines sunglasses, batteries, candy and other perennial categories with changing assortments of novelty items — such as wigs and costumes for adults — and housewares organized not by function but by visual theme.

Except for the mustache-pattern cups and shower curtains, there is little that is colored black. “Black is boring,” said Helene Lassen, the company’s global expansion manager. “We like colors — we like to add the humor, the personality, to the products. We add personality to what we call functional products, so everything has a quirkiness, but without being corny.” New designs are rolled out every month — roughly 10 percent of the 3,000-SKU inventory, Lassen says. “The customer will get a new experience every time they walk around in our store,” she said.

In the New York store, 90 percent of the products will be priced under $15, with the vast majority costing $10 or less.

Most Tiger stores measure roughly 250 square meters (nearly 2,700 square feet) and are located on Main Streets and in malls. University towns are especially favored locations, according to Lassen. “We have a great experience with young people, students, [though] it’s not our core customer,” she said. “We appeal to a very large range of customers.”

Tiger says it plans to open three additional stores in New York City next year.

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