Uniqlo: A Lesson on Brand, Retail and Business Strategy


This past weekend I happened upon Uniqlo on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. I must confess, I didn’t know anything about the brand, but after shopping in its brand new 90,000 square foot flagship store, I have become a fan. I’m enthusiastic not because I like their clothing, which I do, but because in a time where retailers are struggling to “make it,” Uniqlo seems to have figured out what we want.

Uniqlo Manhattan store

The best way I can explain the brand is by saying that Uniqlo is for clothing what Ikea is for furniture, but with better quality stuff. Uniqlo started in Japan and was once a men’s clothing store. Now it’s making a play as a global brand. Here’s what I think these guys have gotten right from a branding, marketing and business model.

Uniqlo Manhattan Store

3 Floors, 90,000 ft on 5th Avenue. The largest single retailer NYC has ever had.

They design and produce their own clothing line. They are not competing with everyone else for the same product line or having their buyers buy the same stuff everyone else is getting.

They aimed their design to the fashion forward but rooted in practical living. I saw people in their 20’s all the way to late 60’s shopping at the store. The décor is modern but there’s something there for everyone. After all a crew neck sweater or a great pair of jeans knows no gender or age group.

They did not skimp on quality. Most of the items I saw were of good materials and excellent workmanship. I visited some designer stores with much more expensive merchandize that looked cheap even before I touched them.

They made shopping both fun and high-end experience.  This is not your bargain basement store with crowed racks you have to sift to find something you would wear. As you enter the store, someone hands you a large mesh shopping bag with a smile. “I don’t need one. I’m not buying anything.” Wrong. That’s before I saw the cashmere v-neck sweaters in 12 different colors for $39. And their amazingly well-cut, Japanese engineered jeans on sale for $9. Yes, that’s 9 American dollars! It’s less than what I paid for a hamburger at my hotel. Not all items were this reasonably priced, but the sheer options of sizes and colors combined with good prices and the store’s brilliant modern design got to me. Soon I had my basket filled.

Uniqlo Manhattan

The lit stairs changed colors all the time.

Economically challenging times create openings for entrepreneurs who are able to see opportunities where most only see problems. Uniqlo is betting that in a depressed global market, people still want to buy fashionable clothing, at reasonable prices in an atmosphere that says high design and fun instead of a utilitarian warehouse lit by noise fluorescent lights.  Who wouldn’t? By the crowds I saw shopping there, I think we’ll be seeing more stores opening in the US. I hope Nashville gets one soon.

 Think about what you do. In our current economic climate, has your business or ministry figured out what people want or need?

  • Sally Smith

    wow. I love the concept. I can’t wait to visit the store. 

  • We shopped there 2 weeks ago and I loved it!    And I guess my answer to your question would be “yes”… since we were there working with a client in NY on a  program that we’ve developed out of what we’ve seen our clients need – it’s been successful thus far.   🙂

    Locally, keep an eye on BEDROC… a client of ours… they are following this same format in technology (focusing on what the client needs vs selling the latest shiny objects) and are just blowing it away with growth.

    • Maurilio

      I’m glad you’re able to work with clients that are trying new ways to reach their audience. That’s the most fun work. 

  • I hope they get one in Chicago soon. I might have to make a trip into the city next time I go up to visit my family!

    • Maurilio

      It’s worth the trip to Manhattan. Well, you might want to add a visit to your favorite restaurant and make it a day of it. 🙂 

      • I don’t know if I could afford a trip to Manhattan right now, but hopefully soon!

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