New Delhi: Japanese fashion retailer UNIQLO opened up to shoppers in India on Friday with its maiden store in New Delhi. The brand’s founder, and chairman, Tadashi Yanai, who is also President and CEO, Fast Retailing Group—the world’s third-largest apparel retailer (UNIQLO is a part of Fast Retailing)—was in the capital ahead of the brand’s store launch here. In an interview to Mint, Yanai, 70, who started UNIQLO in 1984 in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, spoke about the brand’s plans for the Indian market, the growth of online sales the world over and its impact on brick-mortar stores, and how he viewed India’s current business environment. Edited excerpts:
What took you so long to come to India?
Well I do hold India very dearly, India is a very important market for us (given its large population). If we are simply selling clothing, then it doesn't make sense for us to come to India, so our commitment and aspiration is to create a new industry under “Lifewear". We wanted to listen to customers in India and based upon that we want to offer and create our products.
So how many stores will you open here?
Well we are not able to commit because we do not know a lot about India yet. First, we would like to start producing (more of our) garments in India. How do we go about these products, how do we listen to our customers in India, these are the basic building blocks we want to get right and then grow the business. That's the way we look at India.
How do you view India’s business environment currently?
I never worried about the investment environment because whichever market you go to we go with the intention of serving its people. But investment is never easy. At the end of the day, running a business in a foreign country is never easy. But compared with how things were earlier (in India), I tend to see less of resistance.
Globally, shoppers are moving to online at a quick pace, how will you tackle sales on the internet in India?
I'm sure there will be an online shift. Although, I believe, customers will be willing to shift online but we do have our brick and mortar stores—it is our strength and this is the place where we are able to offer real world services. We need both the real and the virtual world. So offering both the channels will be beneficial to our customers and that is our strength. Unlike SoftBank (Yanai is an External Board Director and Independent Officer at Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.) buying up a business, I'm not interested in buying any business (online). We are prepared to invest in the right IT infrastructure. We want to uncover a good partnership opportunity. So as far as online goes, we are not looking at it in the immediate future but in the near future we are interested in launching online (in India).
But as I said, we need to first educate ourselves about the local Indian market.
Will shoppers in other Indian cities get to see a UNIQLO store soon?
At the moment, we are single-handedly focusing on Delhi. We would like to do a very good job in Delhi first. If our business is successful in Delhi, I'm sure other cities in India may come to us to open stores and then if we are able to offer the comparable business in that city—we will be delighted to study that.
India is a very price-sensitive market, how will you tackle your price-points here?
In India, import duty is rather high therefore our pricing will be influenced by import duties. But in general, other than the import duty, there is no other element to higher prices as compared to other global markets. Shoppers here can be price conscious but if we compare the price tag with the quality we offer, we are very confident.