Uniqlo, Japan’s largest apparel retail chain with a 6.5 per cent share of the ¥10.7 trillion Japanese apparel market, is one of the most awaited brands in India today.
In 2014, there was a rumour that Uniqlo – which had a network of 841 stores by August 2015 and was generating annual net sales of over ¥780.1 billion – was coming to India with a target of opening 100 stores in a year.
Two years down the line, the India expansion plans are yet to see the light of the day, but that has not stopped it from winning patronage from Indians who have traveled abroad and purchased Uniqlo or from those who order it online in India.
The first Uniqlo casual wear store opened in Hiroshima City in western Japan in 1984. The brand operated under the name Unique Clothing Warehouse in those days.
In September 1991, the name of Uniqlo’s parent company was changed from Ogori Shōji to Fast Retailing, and by April 1994, there were over 100 Uniqlo stores operating throughout Japan.
Since its launch, the Japanese brand has gone on to redefine casual clothing. The subsequent opening of multiple suburban roadside stores brought rapid growth, culminating in the 1998 fleece apparel campaign which sparked a UNIQLO boom throughout Japan.
The Wall Street Journal was recently quoted as saying that Uniqlo aspired to be a world leader in retail.
The retail chain’s management has been relentlessly focusing on increasing its market share in urban areas, recently opening three global flagship stores in Osaka and Ginza, Tokyo, and four urban global hotspot stores in Tokyo.
CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, TADASHI YANAI SAYS: “FAST RETAILING ENJOYED STRONG GROWTH IN RECENT YEARS AS WE CONTINUED OUR DRIVE TOWARDS TRUE GLOBALIZATION. THAT VIGOROUS PERFORMANCE WAS SHARPLY CURTAILED IN THE FIRST HALF OF FISCAL 2016, OR THE SIX MONTHS TO FEBRUARY 2016, WHEN OUR PROFITS CONTRACTED. IN A NUTSHELL, THE FIRST HALF WAS NOT ABOUT TRUE, SUSTAINABLE GROWTH BUT ABOUT BLOATED OPERATIONS. WE WERE LULLED INTO COMPLACENCY BY OUR STRONG GROWTH. WE TOOK OUR EYE OFF THE PURSUIT OF LOW-COST OPERATIONS, AND OUR PRODUCTS LACKED THE FRESH, REVOLUTIONARY FEATURES THAT CUSTOMERS DEMAND. HOWEVER, I SEE THIS PERIOD OF LACKLUSTER GROWTH AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN PRECIOUS LESSONS AND GRASP BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES THAT MIGHT NOT PRESENT THEMSELVES IN MORE BUOYANT TIMES.”
Japan markets conquered, Uniqlo trained its guns on global markets. The first international store opened in the United Kingdom in 2001 and the rest, as they say, is history. By August 2015, Uniqlo International constituted approximately 44 per cent of total sales, with 798 stores (versus 841 stores in Japan). The retail chain’s stores in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and other parts of Asia are generating strong growth.
Research firm Euromonitor International says Uniqlo leads Western rivals such as Industria de Diseño Textil SA’s Zara chain, Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M and Gap Inc. in apparel and footwear market share in China, though it trails Danish retailer Bestseller A/S and sportswear companies Nike Inc. and Adidas AG.
The Secret of Success
Fast Retailing – Uniqlo’s parent company – was already Asia’s top apparel retailer by revenue in 2014, with plans to become the world’s largest retailer by 2020.
Uniqlo has built a name for itself by offering high quality fitted clothes at low prices, thriving in its market and expanding rapidly over the past decade. But that’s not how it always was. In the mid-90s, when the company was facing a slowdown, the top management decided to reorganize themselves and strengthened their women’s line – something which proved to be a major boost.
Another point which makes Uniqlo successful is their mass production of designs in multiple colors. There is a focus is on designs and styles that don’t tend to go out of style very fast, giving them a longer shelf life.
In an interview to Forbes, Yanai said that Uniqlo sets itself apart by not chasing trends. The brand focuses on basics and makes them more affordable.
Supply Chain & Logistics
Maintaining Freshness along with pricing and quality consistency, Uniqlo negotiates directly with materials suppliers around the world, placing large orders to ensure steady access to world-class natural materials.
It also works with top synthetic fiber manufacturers to develop new functional materials.
- Uniqlo founder, Tadashi Yanai (who owns Fast Retailing), is believed to have intensely studied American retail giant GAP. He believed former GAP CEO Mickey Dressler was a genius and aimed to follow his path and turn Uniqlo into a success story as well.
- Initially, from the contraction of ‘unique clothing’, the brand was going to register under ‘uni-clo’. However, in 1988, the staff in charge of registration misread the “C” as “Q”, and that is how the brand name was born.
- To tackle Japan’s high cost of labor and space, they went ahead to open their first ‘self-service’ shop in Tokyo, way back in 2007.