By Craig Patterson
Popular Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo will enter the Alberta market this fall when it opens a storefront at the popular West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton. The store is the first in Canada for Uniqlo outside of the Toronto and Vancouver markets, kicking off the brand’s national expansion that could eventually see as many as 100 stores in the coming years.
Uniqlo will locate in a second-level retail space at West Edmonton Mall spanning just over 17,000 square feet according to lease plans, in a strategic location overlooking the mall’s indoor skating rink called the ‘Mayfield Toyota Ice Palace’. Uniqlo will occupy three retail spaces formerly occupied by Murale, Laura and Browns Shoes. Shoppers Drug Mart-owned beauty concept Murale appears to be in the process of shuttering its last stores. The former West Edmonton Mall Murale unit included about 3,000 square feet of retail space with an additional 2,665 square feet on an upstairs mezzanine level. Laura recently relocated to a new retail space at West Edmonton Mall, vacating its 10,300 square foot space next to Murale and across from the mall’s busy Lululemon and Zara stores. Browns Shoes has already vacated its space next to the former Laura unit and will reopen in a 7,500 square foot space in the mall that was formerly occupied by Williams Sonoma, making it one of Browns’ largest stores when it opens.
West Edmonton Mall is likely to be a very successful location for Uniqlo. The busy shopping centre sees more than 28-million visitors annually, with nearly half being from out-of-town. Edmonton is becoming more multicultural and many residents are already familiar with the Uniqlo brand — locals have been eagerly anticipating the brand’s entry into the Edmonton market after Uniqlo opened its first Canadian storefronts in the fall of 2016.
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 currently operates 11 stores in Canada, with seven of those in the Greater Toronto Area and four in the Vancouver area. Uniqlo entered the Canadian market with two stores in Toronto in the fall of 2016. In September of 2016, Uniqlo opened its first Canadian flagship, spanning 33,400 square feet, at CF Toronto Eaton Centre. A 30,000+ square foot Yorkdale Shopping Centre Uniqlo store subsequently opened in October of 2016, in the mall’s Nordstrom-anchored expansion wing. The CF Toronto Eaton Centre flagship recently expanded further by about 4,500 square feet when it added Canada’s first ‘UT’ shop selling the brand’s popular limited edition t-shirts.
Uniqlo’s first store in the BC Lower Mainland opened in October of 2017 at Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby, in a 20,630 two-level space. That was followed by the opening of a 17,900 square foot location at Guildford Town Centre in Surrey in March of 2018, and then with an 11,570 square foot store at CF Richmond Centre in suburban Vancouver.
Most recently, Uniqlo opened its 10th and 11th Canadian storefronts in the Greater Toronto Area. In March, the retailer opened a 12,000 square foot store at Oshawa Centre east of Toronto, which was followed by the April opening of a 15,000 square foot location at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket.
Uniqlo is noticeably absent from the downtown Vancouver market, and a large flagship store announcement is expected at some point if a retail space can be secured. As far back as 2014, sources confirmed that Uniqlo had been in talks to operate a three-level flagship on Robson Street in a newly-build retail building next to Sephora on the 1000-block, though the store never opened.
The Montreal market is also a target market for Uniqlo and the retailer’s website has been advertising job openings for the past several months. More details of a first location are expected to be released soon.
In September of 2016, UNIQLO Founder and CEO Tadashi Yanai told Marina Strauss of the Globe & Mail (who just announced her retirement) that UNIQLO could eventually operate as many as 100 stores in Canada.
Uniqlo’s expansion in Canada comes at a time when the country is seeing unprecedented numbers of international retailers opening stores. In 2017, more than 50 international brands entered the country by opening standalone stores, and 2018 saw more than 30 brands enter the market, with this year shaping up to possibly see more than last year.
We’re already seeing some chains such as Le Chateau struggling, with the future of other chains in Canada such as J. Crew being uncertain. There are also more international retailers that are in a similar space to Uniqlo that are considering Canada — an example is fast-fashion Swedish brand Lindex, which was recently seeking out a local partner to launch a Canadian store expansion.
Canada is also seeing an influx of Asian retailers opening stores — minimalist Japanese retailer Muji plans to operate between 20 and 25 stores in Canada , and it is also expected to expand beyond Toronto and Vancouver as it secures Canadian real estate. Value-priced variety retailer Miniso, now being run by its Chinese parent company after accusations of fraud by its former Canadian division, plans to open about 500 stores in Canada over the next three years is another example. Hong Kong-based eyewear retailer Mujosh is another example, with plans to penetrate the already crowded Canadian market with more eyewear storefronts.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: email@example.com