TOKYO: Fast Retailing, the Japanese owner of casual clothing brand Uniqlo, has plans to more than double the number of Uniqlo stores in Southeast Asia and Oceania by 2022.

There are currently about 180 Uniqlo stores in the region, a similar number to rival Zara-owner Inditex and about 50 more than Swedish multinational H&M, but Fast Retailing wants to expand the Uniqlo footprint to about 400 stores over the next four years.

While traditional shopping mall locations will continue to be important, the company’s expansion strategy is underpinned by a focus on stand-alone suburban stores, which have already proven to be popular in Thailand.

“We opened our first roadside store in ASEAN in Thailand in March, and it has been a huge success,” explained Satoshi Hatase, Fast Retailing’s group SVP, in an interview with Nikkei Asian Review.

He said that Thai consumers are drawn to suburban locations because they can get a similar shopping experience as from a city-based mall, but one that is closer to their communities. In addition, they feel less inclined to dress up as they often do when visiting a shopping mall.

With the Uniqlo brand gaining in recognition around the region, Hatase said that “the timing is right” for the company to expand its network of stand-alone suburban stores and that it has been in talks with estate agents in Malaysia and the Philippines as well as Thailand.

Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are also emerging markets that Uniqlo regards as growth opportunities. “We want to have stores in all countries [in the region],” he said.

And looking beyond APAC, Hatase, who is also CEO of Uniqlo India, said that the Indian market has the potential to become the next China, which is the company’s biggest market outside of Japan.

Its first store in the country is due to open in Delhi next year and Hatase promised that “once its business takes off, we will think of the next step”.

Sourced from Nikkei Asian Review; additional content by WARC staff