Four lessons from Japanese fashion icon Uniqlo’s Australian launch

Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo burst onto the Australian retail scene this week, opening its flagship store in Melbourne’s Emporium shopping complex today.

While the retailer has been operating a pop-up store in Melbourne since January it has now opened a 2180-square metre, four-storey outlet on Lonsdale Street that is expected to attract the large crowds seen at the recent Australian launches of other international retailers TopShop, H&M and Zara.

Uniqlo specialises in young and trendy clothing basics. The business was founded in 1984 as a division of Fast Retailing by Japan’s richest man Tadashi Yanai, who is worth an estimated $18 billion and was ranked 66th on Forbes 2013 Rich List.

Uniqlo now operates more than 1300 stores globally across 15 markets.

While Uniqlo’s Australian expansion has been expected for some time, there are a number of lessons from the company’s success for other SMEs. Here’s four takeaway points.

1. Focus on customer service

Uniqlo is renowned for its passion for customer service, which is known as the ‘Uniqlo Way’. As Fairfax reports, employees in Uniqlo stores around the world gather together each morning to recite a series of customer service mantras, called ‘The Behaviours’. From introducing themselves and asking how customers are, to thanking them for waiting, ‘The Behaviours’ form the basis of each sales assistant’s daily vocabulary.

Sales staff are known as ‘advisors’—a term also used by local electronics retailers JB HiFi—and they are all required to carry pens and notebooks at all times, along with a card that reminds them of Fast Retailing’s core values.

2. Staff training

Staff training is also a priority for Uniqlo, so much so that it has been training its Australian staff for the past 12 months.

“There is customer service, and then there is Japanese customer service,” Yanai  told Fairfax.  “We have spent a full year training our staff to get them to the levels we want.”

Uniqlo has also looked for the best and brightest university graduates to help lead its Australian venture, as reported by the Herald Sun. Eighteen graduates were sent to Japan and Singapore last year to complete a four-month management training program to equip them with the skills to manage the local operations and train other staff members.

3. Ambassadors put a local face to the brand

In the lead-up to its Australian launch, Uniqlo secured the services of five brand ambassadors to give an Australian face to the retailer’s LifeWear range of clothing, pitched at the everyday consumer.

Actress Sophie Lowe, 2011 Young Australian of the Year Jessica Watson, chef Andrew McConnell, artist Rone and blogger Sara Donaldson were named Uniqlo ambassadors in March, joining golfer Adam Scott, who was named Uniqlo’s global brand ambassador in April 2013.

The ambassadors were featured in Uniqlo’s first Australian advertising campaign. “Their combined and contrasting life experiences resonate with the ethos of LifeWear, and each of their individual styles are a perfect representation of what Uniqlo stands for,” Uniqlo Australia chief executive Shoichi Miyasaka said at the time.

4. Global ambitions

The launch of Uniqlo’s Melbourne store is just the latest step in Yanai’s ambitious expansion plans for the business. A second Australia store in Sydney is on the way and Yanai told Fairfax this week that Australia will serve as a launchpad to catapult the business into Latin America and South Africa.

“In this blueprint, our experience of having a business in Australia will pave the way for our future roadmap for more of the countries in the southern hemisphere,” he said. “We have started to find our stride in Asian markets and now it is time to tap into Australia. Once we come to Australia, we can eventually go into Latin America and South Africa as well.”

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