By Craig Patterson
Popular Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo has revealed the opening dates of its next two Canadian stores as it picks up the pace with its Canadian expansion. Uniqlo is expected to enter new markets in 2019 at a time of unprecedented competition from international retailers opening stores in Canada for the first time.
Both stores will open this spring, and both will be in the greater Toronto area.
The Oshawa store will be located at Oshawa Centre, a significant retail complex east of Toronto. The Uniqlo store will span about 16,000 square feet in total and will be located between the mall’s Zara and Victoria’s Secret stores, as per the mall map below. Oshawa Centre, which saw a $230-million renovation and expansion that was completed in the fall of 2016, is anchored by a Hudson’s Bay store as well as smaller anchors including Marshalls, H&M, Urban Planet, Old Navy, Boathouse and Forever 21. The mall features plenty of first-in-class retailers such as Sephora, Aritzia, Aldo, and Browns Shoes. Oshawa Centre is managed by Ivanhoé Cambridge.
Uniqlo will also open a store this spring at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, north of Toronto. The 15,038 square foot store will be located next to H&M and across from the mall’s Banana Republic and Rudsak stores — a lease plan indicates that Uniqlo could be opening in June. Upper Canada Mall is also a leading shopping centre that is anchored by Hudson’s Bay, and the mall is an innovator — last fall it unveiled Canada’s first shopping centre-based ‘food market’ concept called Market & Co., spanning 40,000 square feet and featuring 20 best-in-class local merchants and first-to-market eateries. Mall foot traffic grew significantly after it opened, and sales at the mall’s food court, a few steps from the new Uniqlo, were also said to be up. Last month as well, flexible workspace concept LAUFT opened next to Market & Co., and we’ll be featuring LAUFT in a separate article this month. Upper Canada Mall is managed by Oxford Properties.
Both shopping centres are considered to be ‘A-malls’ and are highly productive in terms of annual sales per square foot. More can be read in the newly released Retail Council of Canada’s 2018 Canadian Shopping Centre Study.
“We’re thrilled to extend our presence in the GTA with two new stores and introduce even more Canadians to our LifeWear products, especially in Oshawa, an already well-established shopping destination and a city that vibrates with concerts, sports events and festivals, and in Newmarket, one of the most dynamic, diverse and desirable towns to live and work in Canada,” said Yasuhiro Hayashi, Chief Operating Officer of Uniqlo Canada.
Uniqlo’s colourful stores are known for their staple fashion lines — Uniqlo ‘ultra light down puffer jackets’ are wildly popular worldwide, as is the brand’s cashmere offerings and the ‘HEATTECH’ line which features a technological innovation involving inner wear that generates heat from one’s own body temperature (Uniqlo refers to its fashions as ‘LifeWear’). Uniqlo also regularly releases limited-edition t-shirts which often sellout quickly to crowds of fans.
Uniqlo entered Canada in the fall of 2016 when it opened two flagships in Toronto. The CF Toronto Eaton Centre store, which opened in September of 2016, spans about 33,400 square feet over two levels in part of the mall’s Sears space (which also houses Nordstrom and Samsung). The Yorkdale Uniqlo store opened in October of 2016 and spans more than 30,000 square feet over two floors. For a period of about a year, Toronto was the only market in Canada to boast any Uniqlo locations.
That changed in October of 2017 when Uniqlo unveiled its 20,630 square foot two-level store at Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby. In March of 2018, Uniqlo opened a 12,800 square foot store at Guildford Town Centre in Surrey. In April of 2018, Uniqlo opened its third Vancouver-area store in Richmond when it unveiled an 8,010 square foot one-level unit at CF Richmond Centre.
Four Uniqlo stores subsequently opened over the span of about two months in the fall of 2018, as the retailer began picking up the pace on its Canadian store expansion. In September a 16,000 square foot location opened at Coquitlam Centre, east of Vancouver, which was followed shortly after by a 28,150 square foot store at Vaughan Mills north of Toronto. In October, Uniqlo opened a 18,560 square foot store at the Markville shopping centre in Markham, north of Toronto and in November, Uniqlo unveiled a 19,850 square foot store at Square One in Mississauga. This spring, Square One will also be getting its own ‘food market’ concept called ‘Food District’ that will be similar to the one at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket.
When the Oshawa Centre and Upper Canada Mall Uniqlo stores open, the company will have 11 stores in Canada — seven in the GTA, and four in the Vancouver area. Many more locations are expected in the coming years for Canada, and Uniqlo will be expanding into new markets as early as this year. Uniqlo will soon be announcing stores outside of metropolitan Toronto and Vancouver according to landlords (we were asked not to disclose details) as the Japanese retailer looks to become a national brand.
The initial Toronto and Vancouver market entry was in line with Uniqlo’s strategy to open multiple stores in key markets prior to expanding more widely in a country. It’s similar in the United States — Uniqlo began by opening stores in New York and California before entering markets such as Boston and Chicago (last week Uniqlo announced a second central Chicago store on State Street in ‘The Loop’, joining a massive 60,000 square foot Michigan Avenue flagship).
Uniqlo’s Canadian expansion comes at a time of unprecedented competition in the Canadian retail industry. More than 50 international brands entered Canada in 2017 by opening stores, and 2018 was also a busy year (we’ll be revealing our list and analysis this month). Brokers and landlords are now traveling worldwide seeking out new brands, and 2019 is expected to be another banner year for international brands entering Canada by opening stores. The direct-to-consumer model is also becoming more popular, where brands open their own stores rather than wholesale in larger retailers — Canada Goose is an example that comes to mind, after opening its first standalone store in 2016.
At the same time, consumer debt levels are at all-time highs, and global uncertainty and other factors could create headwinds for retail in Canada. There’s also a polarization in the industry as value-priced retailers and luxury brands expand, while at the same time mid-market retailers close stores (from the looks of it we’ll be announcing more store closures this quarter). Uniqlo’s value proposition is unique — prices are reasonable, product is of high quality, and the brand has many fans that are known to stock their wardrobes with Uniqlo products that range from underwear to outerwear.