Tiger, the $1 billion Danish chain, is bringing its low prices and droll approach to product design to the U.S.

This story first appeared in the April 8, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A 5,000-square-foot Flying Tiger Copenhagen unit, stocked with such items as telescoping back scratchers, umbrellas with “Star Wars”-inspired light sabers and dinosaur costumes, will open May 16 on the southeast corner of Broadway and 21st Street, marking the brand’s U.S. debut. Sunglasses, umbrellas, tote bags, pouches, pad covers, scarves, hats, T-shirts, tops, long johns and candles — which emit different colored flames — are part of the quirky mix.

“Everything is a little left of center,” Tina Kanter, managing director of Flying Tiger Copenhagen, told WWD, describing the merchandising mind-set. “There’s a lot of stuff for your eight-year-old, but we’re really directed toward your inner eight-year-old self.”

The spirited range includes oven mitts with teeth, moustache mugs and pencil pouches that keep zippering open into one long zipper. “We have a lot of ‘need-to-have’ products done in a way that’s all fun,” Kanter said. “It’s the joy behind the product. It’s not just about the product itself. We understand products don’t change the world. Ideas change the world.” To her point, many of the accessories are emblazoned with the word “kaerlighed,” which in Danish means a big hug, reflecting the lighthearted take on retailing that Flying Tiger will bring to Flatiron’s enclave of more conventional, bigger-ticket home stores like Design Within Reach, Restoration Hardware and ABC Carpet & Home.

Kanter explained that in America and Asia, the Tiger chain operates under the name Flying Tiger Copenhagen to avoid trademark issues. She is spearheading Tiger’s U.S. expansion. “We are looking at a lot of different areas in New York City — the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, the Meatpacking District, Bowery, SoHo and Williamsburg” in Brooklyn, Kanter said, describing the near-term rollout plan. “Probably, we will open three additional stores in 2016. The Flatiron store is our flagship. Others will vary in size. We like urban locations. We like the energy of urban settings. We rarely do malls.”

On a tour of the still-raw interior of the store, Kanter encouraged a visitor to imagine what will be. When shoppers enter a store, they most naturally gravitate to the right side, she noted. “I say let’s push everybody to the left,” so the track of the store veers left, and snakes to the back and then right to the other side of the space. At the entrance, the route starts with Tiger’s “campaign” collection of core seasonal items that change over every four weeks and occupy about a quarter of the selling space. New products in different sections are brought in every week, Kanter said. “We turn the stores very quickly — every six to eight weeks.”

In the back of the store will be a wall of candles that at 10 feet high by 24 feet wide won’t be missed. The store will also have 15-foot tall windows. “The store is as much about its energy as it is about products,” Kanter said.

A major part of the appeal is the prices, with candles priced under $5; socks priced $3; wigs for under $10, and fruit cocktail pins for $3. The range is really from under a dollar for such items as pencils and teacups, to handmade blankets priced about $30, though some items are higher priced. Kanter said 90 percent of the products are priced under $15, with the vast majority at under $10.

“We don’t want to be considered a dollar store. It’s about the experience. We’re highly designed and high quality,” Kanter said. About 90 percent of the products are designed in-house. Nor is Tiger to be considered a discounter. The store won’t run promotions or distribute coupons.

Tiger was founded by Lennart Lajboschitz in the Eighties when he sold a range of umbrellas and overstock at flea markets and rock concerts until eventually opening his first store in Copenhagen in 1995. There are 429 locations in 27 European countries and Japan, and a Web site for product information. According to the company, last year about three Tiger stores were opened every week. Most are through 50-50 joint venture partnerships, others are company-owned. While the company designs nearly all of its own products, the local partner is responsible for all operations and providing local know-how. It is not a franchising model. Tiger is seeking partners to open stores in France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Turkey and Sweden, except for Stockholm and regions south of Stockholm, and will also open stores with existing partners in Europe and Japan.

The Flying Tiger Copenhagen stores in the U.S., at least the initial units, will be company-owned. A Danish private equity firm, EQT, owns a 70 percent stake in Tiger according to reports. Lajboschitz retains the minority stake. His wife, Sus, is the creative director.

Kanter, who is Danish by descent, is the daughter of a former president of Ikea U.S., Steen Kanter. During her high school days, she stocked shelves at Ikea before she became a sales associate at Staples and went on to run Gap, Old Navy, Pottery Barn Kids and Weathervane stores before launching a retail division for Petals Decorative Accents, and subsequently forming a consulting firm. “My dad is my mentor,” Kanter said. “He actually never wanted me to go into retailing because you work really hard. But I’m a born-and-bred retailer. I get fired up. It’s a whole lot more than just selling products.”

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