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Saturday, March 17, 2012

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Till you drop: Shoppers enter the Uniqlo clothing chain's flagship store in Tokyo's Ginza district after it opened Friday morning. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Uniqlo opens top flagship in Ginza


Staff writer

Fast Retailing Co. launched its biggest Uniqlo flagship store yet Friday, aiming for it to rake in ¥10 billion a year in sales and reinforce the company's global competitiveness.

The massive store stands in Tokyo's Ginza district — "the best place in Japan, possibly the best in Asia" — as Fast Retailing President and CEO Tadashi Yanai put it during a news conference Thursday.

"Opening a global flagship store in this place is like making the first step on our plan to expand Uniqlo more in other Asian countries," Yanai said, adding that Asia is currently the hottest market.

The 12-story outlet, with 4,959 sq. meters of retail space, will boast the latest and trendiest Uniqlo products and act as a "showcase" for the brand, the company said.

The store will have 520 employees, including 100 foreigners who can provide services in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, French and Spanish.

Yanai also said the company normally doesn't disclose the number, but he expects the Ginza store to generate ¥10 billion in sales during the first year, which would make it the No. 1 performer among Uniqlo stores worldwide.

The Friday opening was welcomed by a line of hundreds of people from all ages.

Uniqlo has had a store in Ginza since October 2005. The new outlet is one block away on the same street and has double the sales area.

By launching its largest store in Ginza — one of the most competitive shopping districts in Japan, where other global fast fashion retailers like Gap, H&M, Zara and Forever 21 also compete — Uniqlo is apparently trying to raise its profile above its rivals to help increase its global competitiveness as it aims to launch more stores in major cities in Asia.

While there is a trend for retailers in Japan to turn to smaller stores, and their increased efficiency, in response to the sluggish economy, Yanai said he sees a need for large-scale stores in competitive areas.

When looking at worldwide trends, primary battlefields for global retailers are high streets in major cities, he said.

As a result, it is an important strategy to create a large store in the best shopping district in each country that the company can be proud to show the world, he added.

Yanai has been stressing the importance of global operations and has said Uniqlo will become the world's No. 1 specialty retailer of private-label apparel, or SPA, that manages the entire process from production to distribution.

The new Ginza high-street flagship is also an attempt by Uniqlo to recast its merchandise as fashionable and high-quality among Japanese consumers who are used to viewing the casual line as cheap.

Keiji Ebara, an analyst at Marusan Securities Co., said the new Ginza store, as a flagship, faces the challenge of effectively promoting new items and styles that can be spread to other outlets while improving the Uniqlo brand image itself.

Otherwise, it will be difficult to differentiate itself from its competitors, he said.

Judging from the turnout for the grand opening, the flagship may boast initial success on that note.

Hirohito Tanaka, 27, from Shinjuku Ward was shopping on the 10th floor, which sells the UU collection made in collaboration between Uniqlo and the popular fashion brand Undercover.

"(The design) looks new and creative" and is different from regular Uniqlo outfits, said Tanaka, who came specifically in search of UU clothes, which were sold only at the Ginza store Friday and were slated to hit the shelves of other outlets Saturday.

At least in the morning, the 10th floor was the most popular, drawing mostly young males.

Tanaka added this kind of collaboration will help add more fashionable elements to the Uniqlo brand image.



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