PROFILE: Democratic dressing - Dominic Chambers, Marketing director, Uniqlo

Mohammed Al Fayed's face must have been a sight the day Japanese

retailer Uniqlo launched its first store in the UK on London's Brompton

Road. Perhaps the Harrods owner was less than amused when he discovered

that the 300-foot long queue of people stretching from number 163 to

165, past Gap, to his exclusive shop was for a clothes store where the

most expensive item (a triple layer 'warmlite' jacket) costs £60.

Probably not the kind of proposition anyone would expect in the heart of

Knightsbridge, where brands such as Karen Millen, Harvey Nichols and

Armani dominate.



Dominic Chambers, UK marketing director at Uniqlo, remembers the day

well. Journalists and photographers swarmed the doors of the store like

bees around honey. The humming of the Japanese media clicking their

cameras provided the background noise to chairman Tamatsuka Gen's

opening words.



Chambers says his memories of what happened next are blurred as he was

overwhelmed both by emotion and the 500-strong crowd flocking into the

store. "There was a huge sense of achievement," he says.



The opening marked the successful start of an ambitious expansion

strategy that aims to see at least 50 Uniqlo stores present in the UK by

the end of 2003, as well as its entrance into other European markets.

Despite the pressure to create a strong brand from nothing and the

strain of satisfying expectations after Uniqlo's whirlwind success in

Japan, Chambers appears laid back.



The abrupt exit of Uniqlo managing director in the UK and former Marks &

Spencer executive Steve Pomfret earlier this month would suggest he did

not share Chambers' sentiments. However, Chambers refuses to be drawn on

this subject, declining to comment on whether Pomfret's departure was

the result of a boardroom bust-up or disagreement over strategy.



And there is certainly scope for debate over strategy. Uniqlo wants to

create a new category in British retailing: 'well designed, casual

basics' that form the cornerstone of any wardrobe.



Many retailers have struggled to make the mass-market approach work on

the increasingly fragmented British high street. So why does Uniqlo

think it can succeed where so many others have failed?



Chambers says success hinges on a limited range (there are only 200

items in stock), keeping the pricing low but the quality high,

communicating the brand values effectively and good customer service.

These aspirations sound all too familiar in the retail sector, but

Chambers illustrates his commitment by picking the example of service.

"We have more staff in-store than other players and we offer a free

alteration service," he says, adding that customers are supplied with

bags while they are shopping to give the experience more of a

supermarket feel.



A bit like Primark, I venture, thinking of that retailer's large green

carriers? Chambers' face screws up slightly in disapproval: "We have a

strong brand, with confidence, that gives the reassurance you don't have

in the discount sector." He struggles to think of a brand that can be

likened to Uniqlo. When pressed, he proposes furniture chain IKEA

because of its "honest" and design-led offer.



"Democracy is at the core of the brand; a product that everyone can

wear," he says. This idea was central to the brief for agency Soul,

which won the Uniqlo account in February following a pitch against a

number of agencies including Mother, Ogilvy & Mather, Circus and Fallon.

Chambers is obviously proud of the advertising, commenting particularly

on the 'skater' ad, which features a woman in her mid-40s, breaking the

mould of using young models to sell clothes. "There's no branding in

most fashion ads, just beautiful people."



"This, to me, is an attractive man," says Chambers flicking through the

pages of a Uniqlo catalogue and stopping at a picture of a smiling, thin

man wearing denim. "He's a greengrocer, he's 54 and he's got a stall at

Watford market." He is just one of the many ordinary people used to

model Uniqlo's wares.



To make the TV ads, Soul worked closely with Japanese agency Thynos.



Next year, Soul's ads will be broadcast in Japan, an achievement which

Chambers describes as the "ultimate compliment" from Uniqlo's hands-on

owner and founder Tadashi Yanai.



Chambers says working for a "remarkably unbureaucratic" company, after a

career at Seagram and Warner Home Video, is refreshing. "Both

organisations had head office-type people with fancy titles that really

didn't do anything," says Chambers. With only four marketers in his

team, everyone has to pull their weight. It's the start-up mentality

that Chambers believes makes Soul a good agency fit.



Uniqlo plans to launch in the Midlands and the North West next

spring.



But before it braves the chill up north, it has to prove itself on the

cosmopolitan streets of London. The ultimate test will be whether the

paparazzi catch Al Fayed or Posh popping into Uniqlo for those basics

that everybody needs but are sometimes frustratingly hard to find.



BIOGRAPHY

1988-1998

Seagram: graduate trainee to marketing manager for Martell and Absolut,

international brand director for whiskies in Asia Pacific, new product

development director

1998-2001

Marketing director, Warner Home Video

2001-present

Marketing director, Uniqlo



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