MANILA, Philippines — All roads will undoubtedly lead to the SM Mall of Asia this June when Uniqlo, a leading Japanese apparel chain owned by the Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., opens its 1,550 sq.m. flagship store in Manila. What started as “Unique Clothing Warehouse” in Japan in the early ’80s has since evolved to become Uniqlo, and it is quite the worldwide phenomenon today. Fast Retailing is the world’s fourth largest apparel company—number one in Japan and in Asia—with sales of ¥820.35 billion, and Uniqlo’s operations account for b85 percent of the group’s sales.

“As of August last year, Fast Retailing had around 2,300 stores worldwide and it’s a number that continues to grow every month. Today we have 1,085 Uniqlo stores globally, including around 850 in Japan. We are present in 12 countries around the world, and today we see huge potential in Asia,” shares Naoki Otoma, group executive vice president of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. and managing director of Uniqlo Asia and Japan.

According to Otoma, Uniqlo’s rapid year-on-year growth in the Asian region is what eventually led them to expand their operations into the Philippines. “Fast Retailing’s goal is to be the number one apparel company in the world by 2020. And in line with that, we want our international business to be bigger than our Japan business by the year 2015, which is why we estimate to have more than 280 Uniqlo stores outside of Japan by the end of this fiscal year. Most of these stores will be in the ASEAN, which is one of the fastest growing regions in the world today,” Otoma says.

Keeping It Simple

Popular for collaborating with different artists and designers for their UT (Uniqlo Top) product line, Otoma shares that should the opportunity present itself, “Uniqlo will definitely entertain the possibility of collaborating with Filipino designers.” He also adds that the company is already manufacturing one of its product lines in the country.

The Philippines is a very important market for Uniqlo, says Kat sumo Kubota, chief operating officer of the recently incorporated Fast Retailing Philippines, Inc. “We cannot claim to be number one in Asia unless we are number one in the Philippines.

We see great opportunities here, which is why we decided to form a joint venture with SM Retail, Inc.,” he announced at the recent press launch held at the Hotel Intercontinental

According to Kubota, choosing the SM group as its business partner was a no-brainer. Uniqlo’s philosophy, “Made for all,” is in line with that of SM’s corporate values. “We want to reach all the Filipinos,” he says, “and the SM group is the number one retail group in this country. They have a wide range of customers in the Philippines that Uniqlo wants to tap.”

Even with its JV with the SM group, however, Kubota shares that they still have the option to expand in other properties. “We are definitely privileged with our partnership with SM, but it does not limit expansion only in their properties.

We are free to open in any part in the Philippines,” he says, adding that Fast Retailing Philippines will still be the one running the show.

Its SPA (Specialty retail store of Private label Apparel) business model, after all, has always been the key to Uniqlo’s success. “We’ve always had direct management rights in all our businesses. Basically we do everything by ourselves—our branding, designing, production, distribution, and sales and marketing. It’s what enables us to capture what the customer wants,” says Kubota.

For more information about Uniqlo, visit www.uniqlo.com/ph or the Uniqlo Philippines Facebook page at facebook.com/uniqlo.ph.

Published March 5, 2012 on the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin. 

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