Uniqlo wants to go big or not go at all.
“Our focus is on large-size stores and large cities,” said Hiroshi Taki, ceo of Uniqulo USA. “If a location becomes available and it’s not in the right city or it’s not the right size, then we won’t go there.”
Taki explained that the strategy builds on the success of flagships such as Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Boston and Los Angeles.
“We’re prioritizing opening in large major cities and large flagships in the hopes that we don’t have to rely on small suburban stores. To fully show our lines, we need flagships.”
Since January, the retailer has closed five smaller stores, each with about 8,000 square feet of space. The locations include the Staten Island Mall in Staten Island, N.Y.; Northridge Fashion Center in Northridge, Calif.; Danbury Fair mall in Danbury, Conn.; Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Willow Grove Park Mall in Willow Grove, Pa.
Taki, who became ceo of Uniqlo USA in October, spoke through a translator in the company’s SoHo office.
“More and more we’re strengthening e-commerce,” he said. “We’re making more of an effort to reach a U.S. customer who may not be near a store. We’ve placed a much better link between stores and online. We’ve strengthened the brand by having a unified approach.”
Taki said the minimum size for a store is at least 13,000 square feet, with the ideal size about 35,000 square feet.
Two new stores will open in the fall at Yorkdale Shopping Centre and Eaton Centre, both in Toronto. Units are also planned for Denver and Tyson’s Corner Center in Mclean, Va.
“We’re thinking of opening in malls and working with owners of malls to request to rent larger spaces,” Taki said.
“I still feel the brand is unknown in the U.S.,” he said. “Maybe people know about Heattech and down, but we have a lot of other great lines. We would like to get our name out there more.
“Last year, we had a misbalance of our inventory and there were many issues that we overcame,” Taki said. “This fiscal year, we want to increase the quality of our items, increase the quantity of our top-selling items and incorporate more fashionable items into the lineup.”
The retailer will offer for fall and winter its continuing collaborations with Inès de la Fressange and Carine Roitfeld.
“We are also improving our internal designs, especially for women, with better silhouettes,” Taki said.
Uniqlo is starting to segment its products for locations. “We’ll focus our items for the south on warmer products.”
Uniqlo is unveiling a 25,000-square-foot unit in Lake Buena Vista in Orlando, Fla., on July 15, its first store in the southeast and 43rd unit in the U.S.
The two-level store will showcase the brand’s full assortment of LifeWear, as well as items that represent Uniqlo’s Japanese heritage.
“We’ll access items that have a Japanese influence or taste,” Taki said. “It will be different from the competition. We’ll have daily Japanese giveaways and special events every week such as Japanese drummers and a Japanese-style game show. We’ll have a corner where we’ll be expressing Japanese culture such as the Yukata, which is similar to the kimono. It will be on display with accessories.”
The store has a dedicated room for events, where Japanese tutorials will be offered for everything from calligraphy to origami.
“The basic concept of LifeWear is not changing,” Taki said. “The focus is on specialty in Orlando.”
Uniqlo has participated in several Disney collaborations, which will comprise up 10 percent of the offering.
For example, “Magic For All,” a global initiative with Disney Consumer Products that brings a touch of enchantment such as Marvel action and “Star Wars” adventure to LifeWear, bowed in 2015 at Uniqlo’s Shanghai flagship and in 2016 at the retailer’s Ginza flagship,
“Magic for All” will be available exclusively at the Orlando store. In addition, a collection of UTs (Uniqlo T-shirts) themed, “Mickey Plays UTs,” feature the famous mouse posing as a professional golfer and tennis player.
“There will be local customers as well as tourists. There are 17.2 million visitors to the Disney Springs area,” Taki said. “This is a very important store.
“The number-one reason the store is important is that it will get many tourists from the U.S. and overseas,” Taki added. “For the local customers living in Orlando, we want them to understand our brand. We need them to spread the word. We won’t have an ad campaign, but we’ll work with hotels and will have advertising within Disney World.”
Uniqlo is paying attention to small details. “Our shopping bag will be similar to a backpack,” Taki said. “Once customers make their purchase, they can go enjoy themselves in the park.”