While Uniqlo may be one of the world’s biggest and best retailers, it’s still a relative unknown in the U.S. But the company -- owned by Fast Retailing, the world’s fourth-largest clothing retailer -- is stepping up its U.S. expansion, and has just announced store openings in Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, in addition to those already open in the New York and San Francisco areas. Larry Meyer, CEO of Uniqlo USA, tells Marketing Daily what’s in store as the brand steps up its U.S. invasion.
Q: Worldwide, Uniqlo is huge -- on par with such brands as Zara and H&M. What’s it like to introduce it here in the U.S.?
A: It takes time to educate the consumer about what the brand stands for. Our concept, “Made for all,” is different than other retailers. We have to work it, and get people into our stores. We have found that once they come in, they tend to like the product, and our stores carry descriptions of what makes us different. We are about you, making you feel special, making your life easier to live. So the product is light and warm, or it whisks away your sweat. We never have logos on the clothing, because we don’t want you to be a billboard for us. Our goal is to make you feel better about who you are.
Q: What is your target demographic?
A: That makes us different, too -- it really is a broad brush. All ages, both genders, any occupation. What they have in common is an appreciation for our classic style of clothing.
Q: The first U.S. store opened in SoHo in 2006, with the remainder of your 17 stores opening in the last few years. In that time, Americans have become less likely to shop in person, and more likely to shop online. How has that been?
A: Our e-commerce site complements our stores. It’s easier. It gives us the ability to communicate more knowledge about our brand on our Web site. Because we are unique, it’s important we have stores so people can understand us, and try on the product. But then they can use the Internet for the convenience of home delivery, or use it if they are tourists who only occasionally come to New York or San Francisco.
Q: What parts of your marketing efforts have been most successful?
A: I wish I knew! We do a lot of things. We spend lots of time and money on billboards, mass mailings and digital communications. And we ran our first TV ad this year. The mix of all those things has been very effective.
Q: So how digitally savvy do you think your shoppers are?
A: Very. In fact, I think all shoppers are pretty advanced, and know how to gain information about anything they want, pretty quickly. Our newest smartphone app has mobile shopping capabilities. But we also have tools like the UNIQLO Recipe app, mixing food and style, and UNIQLO HairDo, which offers hairstyle and clothing recommendations.
Q: You’ve been in this job for a year now. What have been the big surprises?
A: From some standpoints, nothing is different. I’ve always believed the American consumer is smart and curious and can understand quality and value. What has surprised me, though, is the culture of Uniqlo itself. For a retailer, it spends a lot of time worrying about the functionality and quality of its products, and ensuring the store execution is consistent. And we spend a lot of time informing teams about where we are going and what we are doing. It really is unique.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: We’ve got great products. So our challenge is educating new customers about the quality of and inherent value of our offering, and then rewarding existing customers with new products. For us, it will always be about fresh and being new. If we ever stop being new, there’s no reason to be.