Japan's richest man wants Uniqlo to be #1 in PH

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 13 2012 07:23 PM | Updated as of Jun 15 2012 05:20 PM

Uniqlo to open 50 stores in 3 years in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines - Japan's richest man Tadashi Yanai wants his clothing brand Uniqlo to be number one around the world, including the Philippines.

Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and CEO of Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. (right), and Fast Retailing Philippines chief operating officer Katsumi Kubota, talk during a press conference for the launch of Japanese clothing chain Uniqlo at the SM Mall of Asia, Wednesday. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBNnews.com

Yanai, who is chairman, president and CEO of Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., is currently in Manila for the opening of the first Uniqlo store in the Philippines on Friday (June 15).

"It is our goal to be number 1 in the world. It is our aspiration. We believe Uniqlo has made efforts, more than other companies, in clothing, development and sales. Considering our efforts in clothing, I can say we hope to be number 1 in the world," Yanai said, in a press conference at the SM Mall of Asia on Wednesday.

Uniqlo's parent company Fast Retailing began as a small clothing store for men in Yamaguchi prefecture in 1949 under Yanai's father. Now, the company is one of the world's biggest with stores in major cities such as New York, London, Paris, Seoul and Shanghai.

Yanai and his family, who are ranked first in Forbes magazine's list of richest people in Japan, have a net value of $10.6 billion.

Teresita Sy-Coson, vice-chairman of SM Investments Corp., visits the Uniqlo store at the SM Mall of Asia. Japan's Fast Retailing Co. partnered with Sy-led SM Retail to bring Uniqlo to the Philippines. Photo by Fernando Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBNnews.com

In the Philippines, the Japanese giant partnered with SM Retail Inc. to form Fast Retailing Philippines Inc. (FRPI). Located at the 2nd floor of SM MOA's Atrium, Uniqlo's first Philippine store has 1,550 square meters of floor space and will offer clothing for men, women and children.

Uniqlo is going up against global fast-fashion retailers such as Zara, Forever 21 and Gap, as well as Philippine brands Bench and Penshoppe. But the company is bullish about the Philippine market and plans to expand rapidly in the next few years.

Katsumi Kubota, FRPI chief operating officer, said the company is planning to open 50 Uniqlo stores within the next 3 years. Most of these will be in the greater Metro Manila area.

"In the next 3 years, we want to open 50 stores. This shows the level of confidence Uniqlo has in the country... But we also have to be careful not to expand too fast," he said.

Kubota emphasized the importance of the Philippine market in Uniqlo's global expansion plans.

"Our aim is to be number 1 in the world by 2020. To achieve that, we have to be number 1 in Japan, number 1 in Asia and then number 1 in the world... We don't want to be just number 1 in sales, but we want to be the favorite casual wear brand is the world... We consider our business in the Philippines to be our window to other Asian businesses," he said.

'Made for All'

Uniqlo is already one of the most popular clothing brands in Asia, with stores in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Asked what took the company so long in opening a store in the Philippines, Yanai jokingly said "The Philippines was too far from Japan."

But he quickly added, "But from now on we are committed to expanding in the Philippines."

Yanai also promised that the prices of Uniqlo products in the Philippines will be the same as other countries. "The Philippines and other countries will have the same price points. It is strange if the prices are different for the same brand," he said.

With its "Made for All" philosophy, Uniqlo is not limiting the brand to a certain market segment. "We are 'Made for All,' whether you're rich or not rich, stylish or lacks a sense of style - we believe everyone can enjoy our clothes," the Japanese tycoon said.

The press conference was briefly marred by a handful of animal activists, who protested Uniqlo's use of wool from Australian farmers.

Message for PNoy

Yanai, who is scheduled to go to Malacañang on Thursday, said he will tell President Benigno Aquino to ensure continued good relations between the Philippines and Japan.

He said he will also ask for government support to allow more companies like Fast Retailing to start businesses in the Philippines.