In big global push, Uniqlo aims for retail gold

AP News
Posted: Sep 14, 2011 9:08 AM
In big global push, Uniqlo aims for retail gold

The head of Fast Retailing Co. said Wednesday his company will sharply accelerate overseas expansion of its Uniqlo stores in a bid to become the world's top apparel manufacturer and retailer.

Unveiling a new global business strategy, chief executive and founder Tadashi Yanai said Japanese companies are doomed if they don't go global. The country's population is shrinking and aging rapidly, and its economy is stubbornly stagnant.

"Japan has been on a downtrend for 20 years," said Yanai, who is known for his outspoken views. "We are at a critical moment."

Fast Retailing aims to open 200 to 300 stores worldwide each year with a heavy focus on rapidly growing Asia.

Within two to three years, Fast Retailing targets 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion) businesses in both China and South Korea. It also plans to open a "large number" of stores in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

"It's a gold rush," Yanai said of Asia. "A gold rush is right in front of our eyes. To say we won't dig for it is inconceivable."

In Europe and the U.S., it plans to open flagship and large stores in New York, Paris and London, as well as regular outlets in other major cities.

Yanai, who was named Japan's richest person by Forbes magazine last year, found success through Uniqlo by offering inexpensive casual clothing made with Japanese sensibilities and technology. One of its biggest hits has been the "Heattech" line of lightweight undergarments, which Uniqlo says actually creates heat to keep wearers warm.

Yanai said Fast Retailing will push quality standards even higher to distinguish itself and become a brand that represents Japan in the world.

Overall, the company looks to increase revenue by 500 billion yen ($6.5 billion) annually. In 2020, it hopes to generate 5 trillion yen ($65 billion) in sales to surpass rivals like Gap Inc. and Spain's Inditex SA, which owns the Zara brand.

Fast Retailing launched Uniqlo in 1984 in Japan. It now has more than 800 stores at home and 150 overseas outlets. It also owns the Theory brand and French brand Comptoir des Cotonniers.