TOKYO — Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. has tapped former Bally chief executive officer Berndt Hauptkorn to helm the European business of its Uniqlo chain.
Hauptkorn starts his new job Wednesday as the ceo of Uniqlo Europe, a newly created role. Hauptkorn will report to both Nobuo Domae, executive vice president and Fast Retailing senior group officer, and to Fast Retailing ceo Tadashi Yanai, according to a company spokesman. Hauptkorn will be based between London and Paris.
A German national, Hauptkorn was Bally’s ceo from 2009 through 2011. During his tenure at the Swiss luxury brand, he hired the current design team of Graeme Fidler and Michael Herz, and expanded the company’s store network in Japan, Turkey and India. Prior to his Bally post, Hauptkorn was ceo of Vienna-based holding company Labelux, which bought Bally in 2008. Under Hauptkorn’s stewardship, Labelux’s portfolio grew to include Solange Azagury-Partridge, Derek Lam and Zagliani.
“I chose Berndt Hauptkorn because of his solid experience working in a global business. He is a natural fit for us, especially because we are looking to expand our global presence and business. It is just a coincidence that he has come from the luxury goods industry,” Yanai said. “As a region, Europe is becoming increasingly important to Uniqlo, so my expectation is that with Berndt at the helm we will be able to develop and grow our business.”
Yanai declined to answer additional questions on Uniqlo’s strategy for Europe or the macroeconomic conditions in the region.
While Uniqlo has hundreds of stores in Japan and elsewhere in Asia, it has a limited presence in Europe so far. As of the end of February, the brand had 12 stores in the U.K., two in France and two in Russia. Uniqlo International, which includes more than 200 stores in Asia as well as the European operations and three stores in New York, saw first-half sales grow 69 percent to 84.8 billion yen, or $1.05 billion at average exchange rates for the period, and operating profit advance 45 percent to 11.4 billion yen, or $141.4 million.
While those numbers are still small compared to Uniqlo’s business in Japan, the growth greatly exceeds what the company is registering on its home turf against a challenging macroeconomic backdrop. Fast Retailing expects international sales to surpass those of Japan in fiscal 2015. Granted, China and the rest of Asia accounts for the bulk of the growth. Uniqlo Japan’s first-half sales increased 6.6 percent to 364.5 billion yen, or $4.52 billion, while operating profit grew 2.7 percent to 72.2 billion yen, or $895.3 million. Fast Retailing’s first half ends in February.
When releasing its first-half numbers, Fast Retailing noted that France was performing according to plan with sales at its Paris Opera store continuing to rise. The company also noted “improved profitability” at its stores in Russia. But Fast Retailing said sales and earnings came in below target for its U.K. operations.
Prior to Hauptkorn’s appointment, Domae oversaw the European region and individual country managers reported to both him and Yanai. Fast Retailing has been looking to internationalize its executive ranks for some time. At one point late last year, the Japanese company unsuccessfully tried to woo former Prada chief operating officer Sebastian Suhl before he ultimately landed a job running Givenchy, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Hauptkorn declined to comment on his specific strategic priorities for Uniqlo, except that all European markets are “attractive” for the brand. Jil Sander’s collaboration with the brand helped Uniqlo develop a “cult following” in Europe that he hopes to exploit, he explained.
“European shoppers are hybrid: They look for quality, basics, style and unbeatable prices. Uniqlo is truly unique, scoring high along all these dimensions. I’m therefore convinced that the time is very right for Uniqlo also in Europe,” he said.
Hauptkorn said he was taken with Yanai’s ambitions to become the world’s largest fashion retailer and his new boss’ attention to detail. The executive said his experience in the luxury goods realm will make him a good fit for the Japanese company.
“Luxury is about proposing an attractive brand proposition, great product quality and an unforgettable shopping plus service experience. All of this requires a well-oiled business system, a talented, passionate team and daily attention to operational detail,” Hauptkorn said.