With the support of Japan’s largest fashion retailer, this subsidiary company is making a name for itself in the US. Uniqlo USA currently operates just a single brick-and-mortar location, but that’s about to change, as the organization plans to open a second flagship store in New York City soon. According to COO Shin Odake, the company’s team spent the last few years perfecting its North American business model, and now, satisfied with the progress to date, it’s looking to expand.
“Plans are in place to open a large flagship store in somewhere in Manhattan very soon. During the last couple of years, we’ve focused on improving operations at our Soho store, but we’ve seen a continual increase in sales, and we believe the time is right to expand,” he explained.
Despite the success of Uniqlo USA, Odake said most people in Manhattan aren’t familiar with the company’s brand, which is why he and his team chose to open a flagship location. “A lot of people in Manhattan don’t know the brand; those passionate about fashion probably do, but I would say at least 90% of those living in other areas of the city don’t,” he said. “For this reason, we believe it’s important to establish a flagship store in downtown Midtown, which is a high-traffic area.”
The Midtown location will allow people traveling through the area to experience the Uniqlo brand first-hand. This is important because although the brand does roll out a substantial amount of guerilla-style marketing, its primary strategy for attracting customers is the store experience it provides.
Once the second retail outlet is up and running, Uniqlo plans to open several other locations throughout the Big Apple. The company also plans to penetrate the West Coast sometime in the future, and although the organization’s team is currently researching the possibilities in that area, nothing is expected to happen until further down the road, Odake said.
The Uniqlo brand was born in 1984 when the first store opened in Hiroshima, Japan. Today, less than three decades later, the organization operates more than 800 brick-and-mortar retail outlets worldwide, and although the majority of its stores are in Asia, the company operates 13 stores in the UK, in addition to its US outlet.
The team’s global presence certainly has an impact on product development, but according to Odake, Uniqlo USA purchases its products from the Japan-based team. “We work together closely as a network of teams, but all of the product ideas come from Japan,” he said. “The team in New York is not directly involved in product development.”
There is, however, a New York-based company called Uniqlo Design Studio, which operates as a separate entity; this organization staffs a team of designers who analyze emerging trends in America. According to Odake, the team at this company feeds those trends to the Uniqlo team in Japan, and from there, the Japanese team designs and manufactures the product line for the upcoming season.
In the retail world, a company has to remain current if it’s to achieve continual growth, and for this reason, Uniqlo’s global network is very important. The network allows the company to remain innovative and keep pace with the constantly evolving fashion industry; it also enables the organization to catch trends early and capitalize on their popularity.
Typically, when Uniqlo launches a new product or promotional campaign, it does so on a global scale, making slight adjustments when necessary, to address discrepancies across different markets. The system’s benefits are two-fold: it allows the company to fully capitalize on its resources, and it helps maintain a unified brand.
The global network also allows Uniqlo teams from around the world to share ideas related to improving product quality—something that’s a trademark of the brand. In fashion, it’s important to stay up to date with trends as they come and go, but Odake and his team realize that if they want to retain customers for the long run, their products must be of the highest quality. This principle has proven especially relevant in recent months; the global recession has forced consumers to monitor their spending habits much more strictly as of late, and as a result, many have shown a particular interest in products that provide an added value, such as high quality.
“It’s important for us to stay on trend, but at the end of the day, we’re wholly focused on providing value to our customers,” Odake said. “This has always been true, and it doesn’t just refer to the price. We realize that a low price tag isn’t of value to consumers if the products aren’t of great quality.”