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Uniqlo eagerly eyes Asean's potential
Publication Date : 24-02-2014
Fast retailing, Japan's largest apparel firm famous for its "made-for-all" Uniqlo-brand clothing, will introduce collections designed specifically for the Asean region, where it has already opened stores in five countries. Takahiro Nishimura, the 42-year-old boss of Uniqlo Thailand,talks about the impacts from Thailand's political crisis, as well other plans and challenges for the brand.
How successful has Uniqlo been in Thailand?
Success can be measured by many dimensions, such as customers, profits and investments. I would say we are getting increasingly successful. Sales per store are rather high compared to other countries including Japan.
How many stores does Uniqlo plan to open this year?
It's a secret, I can't disclose it. Our principle is to make clothes that everybody can wear. It's not just about increasing the number of branches, which may need not to be too many. Rather, we will focus on creating an environment allowing consumers to reach us such as through using the Internet or e-commerce.
How successful is your first store in a hypermarket that you opened at the TescoLotus Phuket branch last December?
It is very much a success. We have won many customers. People in Phuket people like us.
Will you open more branches this year?
Not this year.
What is your main strategy for 2014?
We do not focus on trendy fashion clothes, but focus on the quality and durability of the raw materials, as well as comfort so people would like to wear them again and again. Our target is to communicate to our customers that the quality of our clothes is very good.
In Japan, our apparel is considered very cheap. But in Thailand, people can buy clothes from many places - from department stores to streets. Our apparel is not cheap in the eyes of Thai consumers.
Cotton polo shirts and short-sleeve T-shirts are quite popular here. We have these items, but they are slightly more expensive than what is sold on the streets. This is because we emphasise quality and special functionality such as quick-drying, breathable fabrics.
One of our plans is to produce a 30-page magazine that describes the fine quality of raw materials used in each section of our products, for distribution to our stores and on the Internet. We may also produce commercials for airing in cinemas, BTS monitors and in lifts.
Do you plan to introduce new product categories, including the cheap GU brand, to the Thai market?
We have no plans to introduce GU here at present. As for new categories, we will launch polo shirts made only for Asean. We already have polo shirts selling for 190 baht (US$6) here. We may develop 390 baht ($12) polo shirts specifically for Asean.
We may use Asean designers including Thai design houses like Greyhound and Painkiller. We are planning for made-for-Asean clothes because we expect the region to recover faster than the rest of the world and we believe we can be competitive in the markets.
Uniqlo only opens four to six stores here each year, while it is opening 100 stores each year in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Is there anything obstructing you in expanding faster here?
Our plan is to open shops in malls but there is a limited number of famous shopping malls here. Plus, in other countries, we are not opening stores in malls.
Also in Thailand, we are unable to find a suitable place for opening our stand-alone store, but we keep searching for one all the time.
Who are the targeted groups of customers that Uniqlo would like to tap more this year?
Our philosophy is to offer products that are not age or gender specific. Our products are currently popular among young customers here, so we must try to improve our communications to reach more of them.
How much is Thailand's political crisis affecting Uniqlo's business here?
There are some effects especially at our Bangkok stores because customers find it more difficult to travel to the stores. Also CentralWorld and Siam Paragon have shortened their opening hours from 10pm to 8pm for safety reasons, which has resulted in our stores missing their sales targets. But we are not adjusting any sales and investment targets.
What is the unique culture of Uniqlo?
It is our culture to give major importance to our stores because that is where customers buy our products. We offer the opportunity for new graduates to work as manager candidates at our stores, providing them training to become good managers.
They can grow further in three ways, by becoming a branch manager, an area manager who takes care of many branches, or working at the headquarters in marketing, human resources or other functions.
There is no seniority or gender preference. We are solely focused on results. Some of our best young talents took just six to 12 months before becoming managers.