Many of the details of Uniqlo’s aggressive US expansion still need to be worked out, but at least one thing is clear: The campaign will start on the coasts.
The Japanese apparel chain, known in its home market for its cheap chic clothing basics, has so far confined its US adventure to cities like Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
However, a broader US presence will be inevitable as the company blankets the country as part of its ambition to become the world’s biggest specialty apparel retailer. Uniqlo hopes to grow from fewer than 10 US stores last year, to about 40 by the end of this year, to 200 by 2020.
“We will have a much larger footprint, which has to include the middle of the country,” Uniqlo USA chief executive Larry Meyer said.
So far, Uniqlo’s brand recognition is strong in the northeast, where consumers know its flagship US stores in New York City, and in the west coast, where a large Asian population already recognizes the company.
Uniqlo, a unit of Fast Retailing Co, is part of a wave of giants remaking global apparel. This group includes Spain’s Grupo Inditex, parent of Zara; Sweden’s Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and US chain Gap, all of which have greater sales than Uniqlo. For now.
The US, along with China and Southeast Asia, are the key growth markets identified by founder and chief executive Tadashi Yanai, ranked Japan’s second-richest man by Forbes
Yanai aims to increase global sales to ￥5 trillion (almost US$50 billion) by 2020, about a fivefold increase from last year’s sales and a sum that would make it the biggest player in this segment.
Yanai’s philosophy “and my philosophy is, ‘If you think small, you get no higher. So you might as well think big,’” said Meyer, a retail industry veteran who joined Uniqlo in January last year.
Uniqlo is especially known for basics like T-shirts that may fetch US$12 and undergarments that cost less than half of what they would at department stores.
The company also prides itself on innovations like “heattech,” a thin fabric that keeps heat from escaping the body, and “performance wear,” athletic gear donned by tennis star Novak Djokovic that is sweat and odor-resistant.