Interview with Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso Group

Written by Deborah Loh

We chatted with Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso Group, about the challenges for retail and his views on how retailers can meet them.

Chris Tiso opens Aviemore store

Tiso is Scotland’s Leading Outdoor Clothing & Equipment Retailer, founded in 1962 by proficient mountaineer Graham Tiso, with his wife Maude in Edinburgh. In 2014 JD Sports invested in Tiso Group and the company has since grown to become a household name, with 21 outlets in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, including the George Fisher business in Keswick.

We discuss how Chris came to be CEO, his views of retail and his particular sector and what the future holds.

Q. How would you describe your current role?

Chris: My role is varied involving the day to day decisions as well as strategic.
While Tiso Group is not a huge business, it is wide and varied, with our four fascia and multiple product categories – Tiso outdoor & mountain, Alpine Bikes, Blues the Ski Shop and George Fisher, our iconic outdoor store in the Lake District.

My energies and focus are both strategic and operational, spread across the business in marketing, product innovation and business development. I have a clear vision for the future of the company and that needs to be articulated and translated into a deliverable plan. An important part of my role is also to support and facilitate the team to take ownership & implement the plan.

Q. How long have you held your current job?

Chris: I had been working on the retail side of the business gaining valuable experience when my father’s accident accelerated me into the position of CEO at just twenty-one, and I haven’t looked back.

Q. What do you love about retail?

Chris: Today presents challenging times for retail and there is no doubt that it’s a difficult business. However, what I do love is the sector that Tiso operates in. My family is passionate about the outdoors – it’s our history and great to be involved in a business which encompasses that – from watersports to ski-ing and biking. It’s both fun and close to my heart.

I see myself as quite creative and retail gives you an opportunity to be just that. Not just within the store environments and customer journeys, but also developing brands.

Our business is about eliciting emotional responses from customers. I grew up in a generation when people lived to work, but this has changed now to a culture of work to live. People now work hard to save money and buy the skis, tent or bike, to get the experience that they want.

Going into the outdoors makes them feel alive. I like to think that we are in the business of evoking that emotion. We are helping people develop or follow their passions for the things that define them. We are part of their adventure and their story and that’s exciting and very rewarding.

Q. What do you thinks is the future of retail?

Retail has certainly got more competitive – and I think it will only get more so. So it’s a challenge and an opportunity. It may be a cliché, but the tougher something is, the more it brings out the best. It forces companies like us to be self-scrutinising and critical, as well as imaginative and creative about how we evolve to remain relevant to changing consumer demands and expectations.

Chris: The customer wants different things and experiences, and in different ways, and we’ve got to meet those expectations in order to survive.

We have to be original and good at what we do – and that is a real call to action. Everything is fast paced and as a business we have to work hard to keep up. We have to be very clear about what we stand for, what we do and why we do it – and be confident that we are doing it as well as we possibly can, because the alternative is not good enough.

These challenges create exciting opportunities to do things differently.

Q. How can technology help? Is there something the industry needs

Chris: I’m only a fan of technology when it has the ability to enhance our lives, not technology for tech’s sake. I apply the same principle to our business. I am excited by technology that can help us. I prefer simple solutions to complex and I always ask; what can it do to improve the customer journey, enhance the customer experience or enable us to run our business better?

Q. What piece of tech couldn’t you live without or trying out?

Chris: There’s no tech that I couldn’t live without – in fact I am happy to take off into the wilds with no tech at all. But I am looking forward to getting a dashcam – I spend a lot of time on the road and sometimes shocked by what I see, recording it makes me feel more in control of the situation.

Deborah Loh

E-commerce & Marketing Manager at Eurostop Ltd.

Deborah is passionate about digital, retail innovation and the engaging experiences they drive today. With background in ecommerce, and traditional retail systems, she heads up the Marketing Department at Eurostop and digital experience with the brand.