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Uniqlo Owner Assembles All-Star Executive Team to Lead Global Expansion; Sales Up 22%

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Fast Retailing Co., the Tokyo-based owner of Uniqlo, has set its sights on an aggressive strategy of global expansion. And the core of that strategy is being designed by a new corp of executive recruits with experience at Wal-Mart, American Eagle Outfitters, Juicy Couture and H&M.

The point seems to be to empower regional managers to make decisions even quicker, cutting down on bureaucratic sloth. Takeshi Okazaki said, “We need them as leaders in each region so that we can make decisions more quickly. We hired them for their knowledge and experience in overseas markets.”

Taking over as chief creative officer for Uniqlo Global Design is LeAnn Nealz, formerly a president at Juicy Couture. Nealz, who has also held executive positions at The Gap Inc. and Calvin Klein, will head design teams based in New York and Tokyo. Uniqlo’s e-commerce business will now be lead by John Fleming, who spearheaded web sales for Wal-Mart.  After top posts at Esprit and H&M, Jorgen Andersson has been hired as the new global chief marketing officer at Uniqlo. And formerly a general merchandising  manager for Express Inc., Steven Sare is now Uniqlo’s chief merchandising officer.  Fast Retailing President Tadashi Yanai, reportedly the richest man in Japan, said that the new hires will “help us launch the next stage of our global growth.”

And that global growth is intended to be brisk. In 2013, Uniqlo opened new stores across the U.S. and in Indonesia, Paris, and Shanghai and plans to open more in Australia, China and Berlin. As it stands now, Fast Retailing Co. has 2,327 stores globally with 847 Uniqlo outlets in Japan and 359 abroad. It has plans to keep a pace of 200 to 300 store launches annually, adding twenty to thirty new stores per year in the U.S.

Business for Fast Retailing Co. has been booming. Its sales surged 22 percent to 389 billion yen ($3.76 billion) in the last three months ending in November. Net income leapt 8.8% to 41.8 billion yen ($398 million) for the same period. The company’s shares grew an astonishing 99 percent in Tokyo trading for 2013, swelling its market value to 4.6 trillion yen.

Many experts see Uniqlo’s continuous international expansion as a hedge against sluggish domestic sales, missing already modest projections by 0.6%. The fast-fashion retailer also ran into trouble particularly in the second half of 2013, due to a variety of contributing factors, including unseasonably warm weather that hurt sales of its autumn and winter clothing lines, steep discounts designed to attract more volume and basic operational and logistical problems that made it difficult for Uniqlo to keep its shelves adequately stocked with core products. In an attempt to revitalize slackening sales, Uniqlo announced its intention to scale down both its labor costs and sales promotion costs by 7 billion yen for the fourth quarter of 2013.

Still, the main pillar of Uniqlo’s strength is overseas sales, which has skyrocketed 77 percent in the three months leading up to November, forty times the pace of domestic sales growth.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Yanai has assembled a net worth of $19.3 billion. He is forthcoming about his ambitions to surpass Inditex SA, the owner of Zara, as the world’s premier global retailer.

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