Uniqlo

Subject: MPLS Network
Industry Sector: Retail
Country: Asia Pac/Europe
Organisation: Uniqlo

Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo, opened its first store in 1984. Rapid expansion at home and later abroad meant at the end of August 2010 it had almost 1,000 stores globally. Part of the Fast Retailing group, it offers affordable fashion for its youth-oriented market.

Expanding out of Japan and into Europe in 2001 with its first UK store, Uniqlo continued its growth into France in 2007 and Russia in 2010. It is currently planning its continued expansion in the region (as well as Asia and the US)

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Objectives

As it looked to expand in Europe, Uniqlo needed an IT partner to help put in place an infrastructure which matched its ambitions for growth. It therefore required not just a supplier, but a company that understood the European market place and local business culture, combining that knowledge with technical ability. As a global company, it needed a technology provider with a proven network that could match its ambitions across the world.

It also required a provider that it could work with from stage one, building the technology infrastructure into its stores as they were constructed.

Cedric Allix, CIO of Fast Retailing France in charge of Europe, says “The majority of Uniqlo’s stores are in Japan, but as we look to grow as a global company we need to expand into new markets. Europe is a key region in our plans, but there are a number of difficulties, due to distance, market structure and culture, that means our suppliers need to be able to not only deliver an infrastructure that keeps us in constant contact with HQ, but also interact with us on a local and global level.”

Challenges

Uniqlo faced a number of challenges in expanding its presence in Europe. Geographically removed from its head quarters and store building team in Japan, it also had to contend with numerous different ways of doing business in Europe and the Far East at every level from senior executive down to store manager.

As Cedric says, overcoming the local issues was almost as challenging as connecting its European operations with HQ in Japan and others areas such as the US. “Historically, Japanese corporations have occasionally had difficulties in Europe, and western firms have often had problems operating in Asia. We needed a partner who could operate in both cultures effectively, with local abilities and market knowledge and helps us operate as a single global company.”

Solutions

NTT Europe provided fully managed infrastructure and systems, being involved in the physical construction stage of the flagship store in Paris, Uniqlo’s European HQ. This included installing low voltage infrastructure and wiring to help deliver telephony and office infrastructure systems, as well as an IP infrastructure, connecting in-store monitoring screens and even connecting security cameras.

It provided a full communications infrastructure, including WiFi, an uninterruptable power supply, IP service and firewalls for the 400 staff based at the Paris HQ. To support all this, and maintain network communication with other shops in Europe and HQ in Japan, Uniqlo makes use of NTT’s datacentre in Paris.

In the UK, NTT delivered infrastructure services for all of Uniqlo’s shops and offices, and has been involved, following the success of its work in Paris, in the Moscow flagship store construction.

Success

NTT provided Uniqlo’s European operations with a complete technology infrastructure that gives it the bandwidth to expand as required, whilst maintaining direct contact with key departments in Japan, including the store building team. 2,500 Uniqlo employees use systems installed and managed by NTT.

As a Japanese company with a strong European arm, NTT was ideally placed to help smooth the way for Uniqlo to expand into Europe. Cedric says “Working with NTT has made every step of the implementation of the infrastructure much easier than it could have been. As a company it understands the complexities of doing business across numerous languages and ideas, and its ability to work closely with everyone from board level to store IT managers means it acted more as an extension of our IT department than a supplier delivering a service.”

“We are currently undergoing a period of expansion beyond our home country, into regions where we previously had little footprint. There is the potential for a degree of disconnect between our branches in these regions and HQ, but working with partners such as NTT ensures that on both a business and technology level we remain connected. Infrastructure backbone is key for our growth strategy. Working with NTT from the ground up means that the infrastructure we now use fits our specifications perfectly and will also help us expand in Europe. We have also benefitted immensely from its local knowledge, invaluable when starting up in a new market day.”

Cedric Allix, CIO, Fast Retailing France