There is little doubt that this continent is starting to feel the effects of an “International Invasion” of sorts on the retail scene. Having just returned from Manhattan, it was curious to walk down Lower Broadway and survey the retail landscape.
Within a few blocks from each other stood the Japanese contingent of Superdry, Muji and the Grand-Daddy of them all at the moment Uniqlo (37,000 square feet on three floors purportedly doing over $50 million annually). This is not an exclusive list of Japanese retailers who have set up shop (including some fashion designers and furniture stores), but these are the most commercially viable that could turn into 100+ store chains across the continent.
The Spanish contingent already has made huge inroads in that regard with Zara and Mango leading the way and Desigual right behind. Mango has even become more ingrained into North American retailing folklore by partnering with JC Penney to open up to 600 shop within shops in their department stores across the country by Fall 2011 in an exclusive arrangement.
Sweden’s H & M has already made its presence felt across the continent amidst some curious real estate decisions to be honest. Setting up shop in some smaller towns may not have been the best strategy for an urban, fast-fashion concept such as theirs. I believe they are re-trenching now after experiencing the marketplace and its vicissitudes. IKEA has been a mainstay for a decade or so and quietly has taken up some valuable real estate across the country and within the consumer’s mindset.
Britain’s entrants are wide and varied and some concepts such as Thomas Pink have been around for a while. But Top Shop and Top Man opening their first store in Soho along with All Saints just opening and Next rumoured to open soon, all make for exciting times for U.S. incumbents such as Gap, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Forever 21 and the like.
What does all this portend?
On one hand, it is very exciting that there are new concepts being showcased on this side of both ponds in order to continue to offer the North American consumer the widest possible choice and the benefit of the creativity and uniqueness of these foreign brands. It also serves as good tonic for our domestic brands to ensure that they continue to offer excitement and to motivate them to keep sharpening their skills in order to maintain their appeal to the ever more peripatetic consumer of today. There is also little question that even in retailing, it is becoming more and more of a global village than ever before.
On the other hand, what is it saying about our North American domestic retailing prowess? There are obviously voids in this market not being served effectively by our own retail gurus (see Uniqlo filling the basics void specifically) and there may be a lack of fortitude, creativity or vision in going after opportunities as they are uncovered. There still are North Americans who are expanding their horizons including Gap into China and the Middle East, Coach into Europe, Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters also testing Europe, La Senza has been in the UK for a while and their parent company, Limited Brands is now poised to enter international markets for the first time as well.
I believe all this activity is very healthy overall for the retail industry. This cross-pollination of concepts moving across continents is a “win-win” for everyone. Anything that increases competition, increases consumer choice and brings flair, excitement and PR to the retail scene can only possess positive outcomes in the long run.