Crowds wait hours for Uniqlo's Canadian debut
Published Friday, September 30, 2016 4:09PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 30, 2016 4:15PM EDT
Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo has opened its very first Canadian location in downtown Toronto, taking a risk on the same finicky market that rejected brands such Aeropostale and Target.
The sprawling 28,000-square foot space at Toronto Eaton Centre offers a wide array of modern, casual basics, such as merino wool sweaters and down-filled jackets, at low- to mid-range prices.
Shoppers gathered outside the store from 4 a.m. on Friday morning to be among the first inside. The line stretched through the mall’s atrium, down a floor and spilled outside onto Dundas Street.
“It fits me well, I really enjoy the brand and they always sell out of my size, so I wanted to make sure I get my items,” Justin Wakileh, the first customer in line, told CTV Toronto.
Hints of Canadiana and Japanese culture can be found throughout the store, including a display featuring hundreds of red origami maple leaves. A troupe of Japanese drummers ushered in the grand opening.
A second location at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre will open on Oct. 20.
The company is approaching Canadian customers a little differently than it would shoppers in the U.S. or Europe. For instance, the Toronto location offers a larger selection of plaid and flannel shirts, and the store stocks both North American and smaller sizing to accommodate the city’s multicultural makeup.
Uniqlo has more than 1,000 stores worldwide, and many shoppers said they were already familiar with the brand.
“A friend of mine actually sent me a few shirts, and my cousin sent me a few pants, and when I was in England I saw the brand there, too,” said shopper Michael Simpson.
The company’s bold, two-store entry into the Canadian market arrives after plenty of research. Uniqlo Canada's chief operating officer visited Toronto every month for almost a year to get an intimate sense of the average shopper’s habits and style.
“We found that Canadians are very confident, especially Torontonians are very confident in who they are, how they dress, the uniqueness,” Yasuhiro Hayashi said.
Market analysts say the Japanese retailer faces two major tests: longevity, and whether or not it can compete with well-known competitors, such as Swedish retailer H&M and The Gap.
"You're always living on the razor edge at that end of the market," said Stephens, the founder of Toronto-based consulting firm Retail Prophet.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Hayashi said the company wants to “be cautious” about its rollout, and suggested that it has paid close attention to recent retail flops.
"Of course, I don't want to give a name, but some other brands have a little too ambitious plans that didn't work out so we want to make sure that we serve the customers well and fine-tune the merchandise mix as well," Hayashi said.
With files from CTV Toronto and The Canadian Press
walking past the eaton centre just now. this is the line for the new Uniqlo. you'd think they were selling tickle-me-Elmos! pic.twitter.com/Da7IwRHtwy— the john, the (@johnsemley3000) September 30, 2016