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Giant Singapore store a symbol of Uniqlo’s push into Southeast Asia

Bloomberg

Casual clothing chain Uniqlo is taking its biggest chance in Southeast Asia.

The unit of Fast Retailing Co. is opening a store on Singapore’s ritzy Orchard Road that will have 2,700 sq. meters of shopping space on three floors. The store will be Uniqlo’s largest in the region as the brand looks for growth outside Japan to revive flagging profits at its parent.

Fast Retailing is busy opening stores in the U.S., London and across Asia to help reduce its dependency on a home market where Japanese household spending is falling. Billionaire Chairman Tadashi Yanai wants to generate ¥5 trillion in sales by 2020 to keep Fast Retailing competitive with Hennes & Mauritz AB and Zara-owner Inditex SA.

“Keeping the low prices everyday is important. That will be critically important given this environment,” said Yanai at a briefing in Singapore ahead of the store’s debut. In May, he reversed the company’s earlier attempt to hike prices that resulted in slumping sales. “We also aspire to provide truly great clothing at the lowest possible prices.”

This will be the 25th store in Singapore for Asia’s largest clothing retailer, bringing its Southeast Asian presence to about 130 outlets. The 67-year-old Yanai, Japan’s richest man with a net worth of $18.3 billion, called the opening of the flagship store an opportunity. He sees markets in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations possibly contributing to 30 percent of Uniqlo’s international sales in five years.

“Southeast Asia expansion will help Yanai achieve his ¥5 trillion sales target,” said Dairo Murata, an analyst at JPMorgan Securities Japan Co. “But to achieve that goal in three years will be difficult.”

Uniqlo last September opened a six-story China flagship store in central Shanghai, and Yanai reiterated plans to open 100 stores a year in China on its way to a potential 3,000. The brand’s Southeast Asia presence includes about 30 stores each in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

That overseas expansion has made Fast Retailing more vulnerable to a strengthening yen, which prompted a cut to its full-year net income forecast in July. Yet recent signs of recovery in the Uniqlo business lifted Fast Retailing’s shares 8.7 percent in August, paring the year-to-date slump in the stock to 15 percent.

Fast Retailing’s operating income for the third quarter that ended in May rose 19 percent from a year ago as sales in Japan and overseas improved. After the retailer in April posted a 60 percent decline in second quarter operating income, Yanai pledged to “maintain the lowest possible prices at all times” to win back customers.