Far from being scared of the myriad of global retail giants setting up shop in Australia, as a retail industry with a proud history, we need to take off our blinkers, and take a good honest look in the mirror in the cold harsh light of day. We won’t lose market share because of their arrival, we will however lose it if the local product offer and customer service is second rate.

A lot of retailers are getting caught up in feeling they need to exist in a fast fashion cycle. Eager executives imply all will be solved with strategies of “fast fashion and promises of “factory to shop floor in just 3 weeks”. But realistically, how much of this product is left languishing on the racks, only selling after repeated markdowns, producing dwindling profits. Speed to market is however crucial to capitalizing on winning styles, or new emerging trends with early reads, but core and key item programs will always benefit from longer research and development cycles, and watertight forward plans.

Uniqlo has just opened its 1350th store. You could argue being founded in Japan with a population of 127 million; it had a bigger playing field in which to grow. But for those who know the brand well, it’s success lies in its clear and transparent strategic vision. You will not hear founder Tadashi Yanai talk about strategies to compete with other players in the market. His strategy is clear, the moment you step foot in a store, and has never wavered, in the face of fluctuating market conditions.

Their vision is to deliver... ”life wear for all with a commitment to quality clothing”

Uiqlo has always been a volume player – but not a discounter. They have always owned product categories, but not just at a price. Their commitment to quality has always been paramount. And in resisting changing their strategy in the face of fickle retail outlooks, their slow and steady approach to their strategy, has allowed them to really create and own innovation in both their raw materials and product offer.

How fantastic for a company to proclaim that it takes 12 months to develop their product and deliver it to the shop floor. This in itself would send many local retail executives into a spin – as most try in vain to mimic the Zara model.
That it takes 12 months to employ and train their retail staff before the doors to a new store open is also impressive. In addition around the world, the stock in every Uniglo store is displayed with military precision. No matter how many hundreds of customers flow through their doors each day, no matter what city in the world, the stores remain tidy, the product easy to access.

In a recent interview with Mark Hawthorn of the SMH, Tadashi Yanai explained the morning ritual before stores open. Retail staff will spend an hour practicing their greeting before the doors open. And when you visit stores, it really shows they care.

The learning’s from Uniglo are quite timely. Their success is based largely on some pretty simple fundamental retail foundations.

Develop a unique selling proposition that is customer focused, rather than competition focused.
Place quality and innovation as your key product pillars.
Invest in customer service. Retail staff are your brand ambassadors, and their role is crucial in executing the brand vision.

How exciting to have such great role models and mentors now playing in our fields. There is a lot to learn from these global giants, and a lot to fix if Australian retail is to remain relevant in the coming years.

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