“In order to do business anywhere, we need to have a firm grasp of what it means to be global and what it means to be local,” Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and chief executive of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing, told employees at the start of 2014, the year that would kickstart the group’s global expansion.
With more than 840 stores in its home country of Japan, Uniqlo has turned its focus on other key markets across Asia, Europe and the United States. Innovation Researcher Harriet Cox tracks Uniqlo’s recently revamped stores in London, Singapore and New York to see how the brand is shrewdly adjusting its message for each site in order to better tell its own story to different markets.
At first glance the new London flagship follows the company’s well-known strategy – easy to shop and simple products that are logically displayed in volume. The basic areas are nothing new for Uniqlo, but the company makes a different impact here with a new concept space, offering a store-within-a-store experience unlike anything you would expect from the brand. The space, Uniqlo WearHouse, is the first of its kind. It’s primarily accessed through its own separate entrance, complete with a vintage tiled floor that contrasts the bright, modern simplicity that the brand is known for. The floor space itself is more reminiscent of lifestyle brands such as & Other Stories and Urban Outfitters, and pays homage to the London urbanist lifestyle, currently featuring the new Uniqlo U range and a calendar of events partnering with London organisations, such as Tate galleries.
“The goal is to be relevant,” John C Jay, president of brand creative for Fast Retailing tells BOF. “We are a Japanese company trying to be relevant around the world and we’re going to do that by joining forces with many different cultures around the world.”
Uniqlo’s Orchard Road flagship in Singapore is its largest store in South East Asia. The brand aims to promote the culture of the local community, and it does this by weaving the style and creativity of its neighbourhood throughout the store design.
The walls of the store are decorated with artwork created by homegrown talent whilst a dedicated shop-in-shop sells products from 24 local brands. Curated displays provide information about the shop’s immediate surroundings, suggesting other stores to visit or places customers might like to eat and drink.
The store also features nice details such as original music from local audio-visual collective Syndicate, who were commissioned by the brand for the store. This is intended to elevate the feeling of localism and community.
In a similar way to the London flagship, the Orchard Road store is designed to be a community hub playing host to a calendar of events run by Singaporean creatives featuring a range of activities from calligraphy and poetry writing to flower arranging that customers can sign up for via the store’s Facebook page.
In New York the brand adopts a completely different approach. Whereas in Singapore it declares itself a collaborator and part of the community – it recognises that this might not appear authentic to US customers.
Flipping modes, Uniqlo has used the retail design of its recently refurbished SoHo, New York store to talk about the brand’s Japanese heritage and raise brand awareness – something it has been struggling with in the market. Hoping to achieve greater authenticity and educate its US customers about the brand story, the flagship features a newsstand stocking more than 150 different Japanese magazine titles and books.
Located next to the cash register, the permanent newsstand encourages customers to browse and purchase up to date lifestyle and fashion magazines and books, immersing themselves in the Japanese culture behind the brand. USA CEO Hiroshi Taki says the aim is to “deliver a message from Japan creating a new Tokyo in SoHo. We wanted to make sure this store was the start to take the brand awareness to a much bigger scale and we wanted to redefine what Uniqlo is.”
Uniqlo successfully demonstrates how to communicate its brand identity, which has its own global status, across multiple markets. Each approach is in tandem with what the host community expects and so the brand aligns itself in ways that are authentic, practical, and most importantly, relevant. In the words of John C Jay, large brands have to think small in order to successfully grow: “To be a great global company, you have to be a great local company, because you have to touch people where they live.”