Blind Tiger: Bucking the Trend
Blind Tiger inns was formed in 2017 and started with 10 pubs, made up of Star Pubs leases and private leases. Over the past 5 and a half years the group has grown steadily, sitting now with 17 pubs in the North West.
Chris Tulloch, the Managing Director of Blind Tiger, has been in and around the industry for twenty years now, always with pub operations, but involved in other projects too. He says, “As with most of us in the industry, once you are in the sector, it’s not commonplace to fancy leaving it!”
The name Blind Tiger Inns goes back to the prohibition era in the USA. “Back then, alcohol was obviously illegal, so those people wanting to have a sneaky beer would pay to go to an event where they would see a Blind Tiger,” explains Chris. “The Blind Tiger didn’t actually exist, but the ‘free beer’ included with the ticket price was always there to be found.”
Chris puts the group’s success down to a willingness to try new ideas. “We aren’t afraid of failure and keep pressing ahead with new ideas and concepts. They don’t all work, but if more work than fail you don’t usually end up in a bad position. There isn’t much we haven’t tried, but we are always on the lookout and ready to take on the next wacky project,” he says.
The team at ‘Tiger Towers’ also includes Nick Buckle the Operations Manager and Alison and Amy, who look after area management and marketing respectively. “People say we are ‘top heavy’ but the support we give out teams in the pubs makes it a great place to work, and our turnover of manager operators is as low as any business I know, which makes us very proud,” says Chris. “We are wet-led and community-based and always pushing to try new and innovative things. Of course, some don’t work, but our ethos is always to keep trying and strive to stay ahead of the curve.”
There is no typical Blind Tiger Pub – nor a typical Blind Tiger customer, according to Chris. “We have a great mix of pubs. Although all are wet-led, the offer varies considerably. We have city centre locations, along with community pubs as well as venues close to large sporting arenas such as Aintree racecourse and Turf Moor. Our customers fit in with the above. From the 70-80 year-olds knocking on the door at 10.30am every day, to the stags and hens who are getting busy at 2 or 3am in city centres.”
One constant at a Blind Tiger venue, however, is the music. “We love music, whether live artists, background or jukeboxes. Every venue has a jukebox which is a very different place to where we were 4 years ago where the costs and service didn’t make them a viable option. Depending on the location, we have different profiles set up for the type of music we play. All of our managers have access to change the profile should they need to do for a special event or occasion or to suit a change in customer profile,” he adds.
Blind Tiger Inns has been working with Soundnet/TouchTunes for about five years for the supply of its digital jukeboxes. “The kit looks great and really suits are venues. Its very reliable and the customers get engaged with it,” says Chris. “Equally, the cost of a jukebox used to be prohibitive, and content was not always up to date. The connected version increases plays and I feel it is something that works now for both the operator and the retailer. More and more of our customers are now engaging with the Touchtunes app which is great news. We are looking forward to pushing this out further with a marketing campaign over the coming months.”
As for other future plans – Chris is upbeat, “We are always looking at new opportunities. We don’t have a target number, as we are privately owned and not looking to tick boxes in terms of number of outlets. If we see the right pubs and all of the team are happy to go ahead then that is when we move forwards. We expect to refurbish at least one of our existing estate this year and probably add two or three new sites before November,” he says.