Uniqlo Canada takes it slowly

After the Japanese apparel retailer decided to open its first shop in Canada, Uniqlo Canada COO Yasuhiro Hayashi visited Toronto every month for nearly a year.

During each visit he would spend the week taking notes on what people were wearing.

“I didn’t expect that everyone was so unique and multicultural,” says Hayashi, who previously helped launch Uniqlo in Singapore and Indonesia. “That was very surprising in a very positive way. We don’t have a specific target customer – that’s our uniqueness. We say we are made for all.”

Finally, the company is opening its first store in Canada on Friday, a 28,000-sqft (27,989 sqm) space in the Toronto Eaton Centre, between fast-fashion rival H&M and the newly arrived luxury retailer Nordstrom. A second store opening is planned at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in north Toronto on October 20.

Even with more than 1000 stores worldwide, Hayashi says Uniqlo may not have the same name recognition in Canada as some of its international rivals before they entered the country. It is a challenges that needs to be overcome if it wants to continue expanding in Canada, but Hayashi says there is no rush.

“We want to be very cautious,” he says. “Of course, I don’t want to give a name, but some other brands have had ambitious plans that didn’t work out. We want to make sure we serve the customers well and fine-tune the merchandise mix as well.”

US retailer Target last year abruptly announced it was shutting down all its 133 Canadian stores only two years after arriving. Since then, several international retailers such as Muji, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue have taken a slower approach to opening locations in Canada.

Hayashi says Uniqlo’s Toronto stores will largely be the same as its other locations, with a few nuanced differences for Canadian shoppers. Customers can expect more than usual plaid and flannel shirts. Most sizing will be for a North American fit, but there will also be some smaller sizes to reflect Toronto’s multicultural population.

Uniqlo will also sell house slippers, commonplace in its stores in Asia.

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