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On the eve of the opening of Uniqlo's King of Prussia Mall location, the first of three stores from the Japanese retailer to open in the Philly metro area in 2014, we just took a trip down memory lane with a look back at our Uniqlo coverage, which progressed from will-they-or-won't-they rumors to a face-to-face interview with Uniqlo U.S. CEO Larry Meyer—and it only took 18 months to get here!
In town to help debut his KOP store, Meyer tells us the top misconceptions surrounding the Uniqlo brand, which Philly store he's most excited about, and how Uniqlo changed his mind about graphic tees. (Click through the slideshow above for your very first look at Uniqlo KOP.)
How do you perceive the reaction of Philly to Uniqlo so far?
We've seen evidence that people are interested in the brand. We can track where people come from on our e-commerce site, and we see Philadelphia is a market that we ship to a lot. So we feel that people who've seen our stores or know our brand tend to re-buy, and Philadelphia is one our top markets. And ultimately, we'll see how it turns out.
Does the Philly market present any unique challenges that you've yet to encounter in other metropolitan areas new to Uniqlo?
It's a new market, so as a new market, there's always a challenge in how do we explain the brand and how do we get people to try the product—because we believe that once you try the product, you'll love the product, as I've come to love the product. So it's not [a challenge] that's unique to Philly, especially as a major new market.
We know that Racked readers are, in particular, really excited to see the brand grow its U.S. footprint.
The fact that we're a Japanese brand [creates] an inquisitiveness about what [we're about]. I hope that--in my mind--that stands for quality, and, I would say, integrity, and our brand stands for those.
In 2014, you have three stores planned for the Pa. market: the King of Prussia and Willow Grove Park malls and Chestnut Street in Center City. Would you say debuting three stores in one market—within mere months of each other—is an aggressive approach?
I don't know that it's aggressive. Historically, we opened in Manhattan with one store, and then we opened two more. And in San Francisco, we opened one store on Powell Street. Philadelphia, as in many other cities, the suburb-city balance is, I think, somewhat different than Manhattan is to, let's say, the rest of New York City. There's commerce in suburbia, so we want to service both customers, and my sense is that people from downtown Philadelphia also come to King of Prussia because of the store base here. King of Prussia is a high-quality mall on a national scale. We felt it was important to open here.
Was it your plan from the beginning to open in Willow Grove?
Well, we looked around, and we liked the space there, and the relationship with the landlord. So we were happy with that location and the transaction. The customer in [Willow Grove] is sophisticated; they'll understand our product.
How will the Chestnut Street store differ from the mall stores? Are all Uniqlo stores identical in appearance and layout?
The downtown [Chestnut Street] location will be larger, so as a result of it being larger, it might have some additional assortment. All of the stores will carry virtually the same assortment, although if we have a larger store, we might have some additional pieces that we can put in the store.
Which Philly store are you most excited about?
I'm excited about all our stores, but at this point, I'm excited about King of Prussia.
Why? Because it's opening tomorrow?
Which Pa. store do you predict to be the most successful?
I think they all will be successful because of the different parameters for measuring success. I think this store [KOP] will be successful because of the scale of this mall, Willow Grove will be successful because of the customer that's there who wants to shop in that particular part of the suburban area, and downtown is always unique and always attracts a varied customer.
There's a lot about Uniqlo that's foreign: the brand itself, the name [pronounced "YOU-nee-klo"], the rows upon rows of meticulously folded basics. What's the biggest challenge when it comes to gaining a foothold in the U.S. market? How do you get people to "get it"?
Awareness and trial. So we have to tell people what Uniqlo is, and they have to try the product, and once they try the product, I believe they'll come back and buy more product. [Especially for] the comfort of the product; that's the primary thing. And then the quality of the product. People have always said to me that once you try Uniqlo, it just grows on you. I haven't bought a graphic tee for years and I bought an SPRZ Pollock tee. And I bought the Keith Haring Pocketable Parka. It's just a wonderful product.
Uniqlo's superior customer service is the stuff of legends. But we have to ask: Why sink resources into excellent customer service when you could just follow the lead of other global brands and sneak by—and still find success—by being average?
Everything's about standards and making sure you keep standards high. We'll maintain the integrity of service throughout every country we operate in. That's just who we are. Whether you walk in to our store in Manhattan or Paris or King of Prussia or Tokyo, you should feel that same excellence. [Paying attention to] the neatness of the folds, the neatness and tidiness of the store—that's what Uniqlo is all about. I would argue that for the mass brand, our standards are better.
We typically see Uniqlo lumped in with "fast fashion" brands, like Forever 21 and H&M. What's your response to that?
I guess the question is what does fast fashion mean, right? If fast fashion means super trendy, we're not that. Fast fashion from the point of view of "Can you take it from couture runways and bring it to the market at a lower price?" We're not that. We're about consistent styles with new colors, new silhouettes, new fabrications. That's what we're known for. Next year, instead of Michael Bastian polo shirts, we'll have someone else as our collaborator. Or we have our Dry Pants. Next year, we'll have another evolution of the Dry Pant.
What's one thing you wish the American customer would understand about Uniqlo? Any misconceptions you'd like to clear up?
Well, I think we are inspired by and we are about our technology, but that technology is more than just our ULD [Ultra Light Down] or our Heattech. I think that the quality image goes beyond that. We have many other categories that we are equally as focused on in regards to quality and consistency, in addition to being very technically advanced.
How do you keep prices down?
Scale is one thing, and the initial margin structure. We're about an everyday low price. We have temporary discounts for weekly promotions on occasion, but in general, we're a "first price, right price" retailer. We feel honesty and integrity in everything we do: the clothes, the service, and the price. That's what you should know about Uniqlo. We're sometimes different from a lot of other retailers that are out there right now.
Racked's Chicago and Vegas editors demand to know if you'll be opening in their markets.
Let's lighten things up with a fast lightning round, shall we? First: favorite movie?
Shakespeare in Love
I would say blue.
Any form of Italian usually works.
What's something you're really bad at?
Buying my wife bags. I feel good about that one!
Uniqlo's location within the King of Prussia Mall Plaza debuts Friday, May 16, with grand opening festivities that extend through Memorial Day weekend. The Chestnut Street and Willow Grove stores are slated to open this fall.
· Uniqlo [Official Site]
· This Just In! Uniqlo Headed for the Willow Grove Park Mall [Racked Philly]
· The 6 Phrases You Need Need to Memorize to Work at Uniqlo [Racked Philly]
· Breaking! Uniqlo Opening Two Philly Area Store Locations [Racked Philly]