Uniqlo’s struggles cause fashion chain to close stores – New York Post

The fastest-growing retailers have hit the same speed bump that the rest of the industry slammed into last year.

Tokyo-based Uniqlo — a 1,700-store global chain with 43 US stores and big plans to grow its portfolio here — is the latest fast-fashion retailer to retrench amid slowing sales.

With its brightly colored duds, neatly folded and meticulously displayed in megastores, Uniqlo has quietly closed five stores since January. They were all in suburban shopping malls, according to the company, in Danbury, Conn., Cherry Hill, NJ, Willow Grove, Pa., Northridge, Calif., and Staten Island, which was open less than three years.

“The US is very important to the company,” spokesman Aldo Liguori told The Post. “We are focusing on large cities where we can open large stores.”

The company’s chief executive, Tadashi Yanai, reportedly the richest man in Japan, put it more bluntly last year during an earnings call.

“The brand penetration in big cities such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago is good, but not in the suburbs,” he said.

The company does very little print advertising, relying mostly on digital ads.

Yanai was forced to retreat in 2005 as well when the company closed three stores in malls shortly after they opened.

Owned by Fast Retailing, which operates seven clothing brands, the company told investors last year that it would be scaling back its US expansion after opening 17 stores in 2014. Last year it opened four new stores and this year it has announced so far that three stores will be opened.

However, Uniqlo is not alone.

“The fast-fashion market has peaked,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, pointing to the struggles of once-hot retailers like Forever 21, “which has negative same-store sales in the high teens,” and the “slower growth” at H&M, not to mention the woes of Gap Inc. and teen retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch.

Uniqlo may also be anticipating stiff competition from rival Primemark, an Irish-based discounter that is expanding in the US, opening its second and third stores here at the Staten Island Mall and Danbury Fair Mall, which Uniqlo just exited.

“Primark is cheaper than Walmart,” said Johnson, “It’s new and it has a ton of merchandise and it’s cheap.”

In addition to urban markets, Uniqlo is beefing up its customer service, said Ligouri.

Drawing on Japanese customs, Uniqlo sales clerks are expected to keep the stores extremely neat and to hand customers their receipts, credit cards and bags with two hands.

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