CHRIS Tiso has said the renowned outdoor clothing and equipment retailer that bears his family’s name may open another store next year but will steer clear of High Street locations amid challenging conditions in the sector.

Mr Tiso is confident there is still a place for bricks and mortar retailers in spite of the relentless rise of online players.

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He said the Tiso group is assessing opportunities to develop more of the Outdoor Experience outlets on which it has focused investment in recent years. These sell a range of outdoor gear, bikes and ski equipment and offer facilities such as climbing walls and cafes to help them appeal to a broad range of customers. They are based in locations chosen carefully by Tiso to ensure they can attract people from a wide area.

“There’s a couple of projects that are in the pipeline, one opportunity in particular, which, if it goes ahead, represents something very exciting,” said Mr Tiso, adding that a 2021 opening is “entirely conceivable”.

He confirmed the locations under review are in Scotland.

The outdoor experience format allows Tiso to generate higher profits than it could in smaller stores.

High streets would not be suitable for the kind of store the company has in mind. These need space for bulky items arranged over a simple floor plan. Parking facilities are essential.

But the group’s long-established city centre operations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee all have a future.

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“They are still very relevant in their local markets, partly because they are so well-established that they have accumulated a lot of goodwill.”

Mr Tiso, 48, has been pleased overall by the performance of the store estate given pressure on consumer spending and the challenges posed by the rise of internet players.

Recent trading has been ok rather than spectacular but he would be suspicious of any retailers who claim to have been shooting the lights out.

“We don’t just focus purely on sales”, noted Mr Tiso.

“If we look at the KPI (key performance indicator) trends in our bricks and mortar estate they are largely consistent. Our footfall is remaining pretty consistent as a trend, a positive trend, our sales likewise, our average transaction value likewise, our basket likewise.

“To my mind that’s encouraging.”

The company has been holding its own at a time when macro-economic challenges are being compounded by structural issues for the sector Tiso operates in.

“The reality is that our market, outdoor in the broadest sense, and I include within that bike and ski, is over-supplied, it’s been over-supplied for quite some considerable time.

“It can very easily become a race to the bottom, particularly when some of the brands are arguably over-distributed.”

Tiso’s response involves looking to work with brands that are new and exciting and are willing to work on a more restricted distribution basis.

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For all the confidence he has in stores, Mr Tiso says most of the company’s growth is coming from online. This is a focus of huge effort for the company.

It is making a six-figure investment in areas such as digital to ensure it can meet the expectations of consumers in a fast -changing online world, without cannibalising the business of stores.

“Increasingly for the next generation and the generation after that the first experience and the first interaction they have with the business is going to be online whether that’s through a social channel or our website. What’s important is that the first impression is of such quality and is engaging enough to take then to the next step.”

Mr Tiso thinks the brands the company trades under are strong enough to allow it to make a big impact on overseas markets.

Ironically, the company’s initial success was based on importing specialist products from Europe in the Tiso family’s campervan.

Founded by Mr Tiso’s parents in 1962, the business achieved renown for helping climbers and the like get kit that was hard to find in the UK.

Mr Tiso recalls interesting times spent exploring the great outdoors and learning about the business world in his youth.

“The norm for us was to disappear off up north with a tent in the boot of the car or disappear of to the West coast to go sailing.”

He became chief executive in 1992 following the death of his father, Graham, in a boating accident.

The business went on to enjoy years of steady growth, during which it acquired the Blues ski business, Alpine Bikes and the famed George Fisher store in Keswick.

Mr Tiso reckons the business has become part of the fabric of the outdoor community in Scotland.

However, he has had to deal with huge challenges in recent years.

The company closed some stores amid the painful retrenchment process that started after trading slumped in 2011 as the fallout from the global downturn triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 and unhelpful weather conditions took a toll on the business.

Mr Tiso went on to agree deal with JD Sports late in 2013 that saw the Lancashire-based giant acquire a majority stake in the firm, reportedly for around £2 million. It agreed to provide support for to capitalise on opportunities to develop.

Weeks later Mr Tiso’s older brother Donald was killed on a climbing expedition.

The involvement of JD Sports has provided a range of benefits. These include access to a broader spectrum of margin enhancing own brand products and support with store and systems upgrades.

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JD supported Tiso in the opening of a new outdoor experience in Aviemore in 2018. This followed a long wait for the right opportunity.

After almost 30 years at the helm Mr Tiso says he still loves what he does.

“There have been times when it has been a struggle but at the end of the day it’s my name above the door. I’m hugely proud of this business.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I have been lucky enough to visit many countries and explore every continent. It is impossible to single any one country out as I like or love them for different reasons. I am attracted to the more remote regions of the world and feel fortunate to have travelled extensively before the internet and mobiles made the world smaller. If I could live anywhere but Scotland right now it would be Norway - a magnificent country in almost every way.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

As a child I loved live classical music which I was introduced to by my mother and for many years wanted to be a conductor. Sadly I am not musical but my love of music endures to this day.

What was your biggest break in business?

I am not really aware of ever having had a biggest break. In my experience business is about constant mini breaks and setbacks. The former are usually self-created by recognising and capitalising on opportunities in a timely fashion. The latter simply have to be overcome. That's it!

What was your worst moment in business?

Following the global financial crisis we went from a record profit to a record loss in 12 months resulting in stores closures, redundancies and major restructuring. It was the most stressful period of my life.

Who do you most admire and why?

My mother for her determination, integrity, values and resilience. She remains an inspiration to me whenever I need to apply perspective.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?

Currently reading 'Now We Shall be Entirely Free' by Andrew Miller. My Son recently introduced me to Billie Eilish’s music – dark but beautiful. We watched Cool Runnings over Christmas, a family favourite if ours.