Uniqlo is coming to America. The Japanese clothing retailer, which already has three massive outlets in New York, "is starting aggressive growth plans at shopping malls that are expected to include 20 to 30 new stores a year over the next eight years," says Stephanie Clifford at The New York Times. Uniqlo is a dominant retailer in Japan, and its parent company, Fast Retailing, has made the biggest gains on Japan's benchmark stock exchange over the past five years. But it remains to be seen whether Uniqlo can crack the broader American market. Here, a guide to Uniqlo's ambitions:
First off: What is Uniqlo?
The company offers distinctly affordable wardrobe staples (leggings, chinos, cashmere sweaters) that often draw comparisons to merchandise sold at Gap or Old Navy. However, the retailer has collaborated with high-profile designers to enhance "its reputation as a forward-thinking fashion brand," says Tina Gaudoin at The Wall Street Journal. In addition, the company has played up its "high-tech fabric," and relied on its Japanese origins to imbue its clothing with foreign appeal, says Clifford.
Why is it expanding now?
Most U.S. retailers — like Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch — are dramatically scaling back their presense in malls, and Uniqlo sees an opportunity to break into the market. The company has saturated Japan's retail landscape, and its overseas growth in other Asian countries is accelerating rapidly. However, the company sees the U.S., with its obsessive consumer culture, as vital to its foreign plans, and expects its American revenue to reach $10 billion a year by 2020.
Are other foreign firms expanding in America?
Yes, a lot of them. Gap and Old Navy are also facing stiff competition from H&M, Zara, Mango, TopShop, and Joe Fresh.
Where will Uniqlo open first?
In addition to its existing flagship stores in New York, Uniqlo plans to open a 29,000-square-foot store in San Francisco in the fall, and also has a lease for a 43,000 square-foot store in Paramus, N.J. The company is also eyeing sites for maximum-impact flagship stores in Philadephia, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Will it succeed?
Uniqlo has tried and failed before. In 2006, the company opened modest, 7,000 square-foot stores in New Jersey malls only to close them in less than a year. Executives say the standard-sized stores did not adequately distinguish Uniqlo from its competitors. This time, they are going big.