TOKYO, Japan — Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing Co. is hiring executives from retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to strengthen the Japanese clothier’s overseas expansion blitz.
The apparel seller announced the appointments yesterday in Tokyo along with fiscal first-quarter profit that beat analyst estimates. The shares rose 3.3 percent to 41,100 yen at the close in Tokyo trading, the biggest gain since Dec. 25.
Fast Retailing President Tadashi Yanai, who has expanded in the U.S., China and Indonesia, is counting on executives from Wal-Mart, Esprit Holdings Ltd., Express Inc. and Juicy Couture to speed decision-making at his overseas business. While the casual clothing chain is growing in Japan, aided by outlets in higher-end shopping districts, Uniqlo sales overseas surged 77 percent in the three months ended November, more than 40 times faster than domestically.
“The new hires have backgrounds in merchandising and e- commerce, so I think it’s highly likely that positive changes will happen in those areas,” Dairo Murata, an analyst at JPMorgan Securities Japan Co., said today by telephone. “Hiring people that can meet Mr. Yanai’s high expectations will bring more changes and positive results for the company.”
The appointments include LeAnn Nealz, formerly a president at Juicy Couture, as chief creative officer for Uniqlo Global Design, the Yamaguchi, Japan-based company said in a statement yesterday. Juicy Couture, which Fifth & Pacific Cos. sold to Authentic Brands Group last year, is known for its velour sweatsuits and whimsical feminine designs. Authentic Brands agreed to buy Juicy’s intellectual property for $195 million, Fifth & Pacific said in a statement Oct. 7.
Fast Retailing’s new managers will “help us launch the next stage of our global growth,” Yanai said yesterday in the statement.
Nealz will lead Uniqlo’s design teams in Tokyo and New York. She had also been chief design officer at casual wear retailer American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and had worked at The Gap Inc. and Calvin Klein, according to Fast Retailing’s statement.
John Fleming, formerly chief executive officer of Walmart.com, joined to head Uniqlo’s e-commerce business. Steven Sare, appointed chief merchandising officer for Uniqlo USA, was general merchandising manager at Columbus, Ohio-based Express Inc.
Jörgen Andersson will join as co-global chief marketing officer of Uniqlo after holding posts at Esprit and Hennes & Mauritz AB.
“We need them as leaders in each region so that we can make decisions more quickly,” Chief Financial Officer Takeshi Okazaki said yesterday. “We hired them for their knowledge and experience in overseas markets.”
Fast Retailing net income rose 8.8 percent to 41.8 billion yen ($398 million) in the three months ended November, the company said yesterday in a statement. The result compares with the 37.2 billion yen average of three analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
Yanai, Japan’s richest person, has ambitions for Fast Retailing to overtake Zara owner Inditex SA and become the world’s top clothing retailer. He has opened stores in New York, Paris, Shanghai and Jakarta, more than quadrupling overseas sales in the five financial years through August 2013.
Building Fast Retailing from the clothing business he took over from his father, Yanai has amassed a net worth of $19.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The clothier surged 99 percent last year in Tokyo trading, boosting the company’s market value to 4.6 trillion yen as of Dec. 30, compared with 2.3 trillion yen a year earlier.
Sales at Fast Retailing, which has other brands apart from Uniqlo, rose 22 percent to 389 billion yen in the three months ended in November, it said in its earnings statement yesterday.
The brand’s domestic sales rose 1.8 percent to 208.4 billion yen as revenue-per-customer grew.
“The overseas business was very good because the issue for investors has been how much that part of the business can make up for slow domestic growth,” Mitsushige Akino, executive director at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, said yesterday after the results were announced.
Annual sales will probably be 1.322 trillion yen, 0.6 percent less than the company’s Oct. 10 projection, the company said yesterday. The forecast was lowered to reflect a change in accounting for internal transactions.
Fast Retailing has said it plans to open 200 to 300 outlets overseas annually and aims to open its first stores in Australia and Germany this year. The retailer targets opening between 20 and 30 stores a year in the U.S. and hopes to reach 100 stores there in the next few years, Yanai said last year.
The company is also adding stores in China and Indonesia as it bets on global expansion to boost sales to 5 trillion yen by 2020. Its brands include Comptoir des Cotonniers, GU, Helmut Lang, J Brand, Princesse tam.tam, Theory and Uniqlo.
By Yuki Yamaguchi; Editors: Dave McCombs, Stephanie Wong