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Uniqlo CEO excited for Aussie debut

Tadashi Yanai is in Melbourne to launch his first Uniqlo store in Australia which opens its doors on Wednesday.

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It is called the Uniqlo Way. Every morning at 9am - an hour before the first customers arrive - staff at Uniqlo's clothing stores around the world gather to recite what are called ''The Behaviours''. These are a series of well-honed phrases that define customer service.

Sales staff - their official title is ''advisers'' - pair off, face each other, and say the following out loud:

Tadashi Yanai.

Tadashi Yanai. Photo: Josh Robenstone

■''Hello, my name is [insert name], how are you today?''

■''Did you find everything you were looking for?''

■''Let me know if you need anything. My name is [insert name].''

■''Thank you for waiting.''

■''Goodbye, we hope to see you again soon.''

Every adviser must use a minimum of four of these lines - including ''Did you find what you were looking for?'' twice - or their service is deemed to be a failure.

Nothing is left unscrutinised at Uniqlo, from the folding of jeans to the speed of checkout, where a maximum of 60 seconds is allowed per transaction. Advisers must carry pens and notebooks at all times, and a small plastic card that outlines the values of the ''Fast Retailing Way''.

Welcome to the world of Tadashi Yanai, the founder of Uniqlo and, with an estimated $19 billion fortune, Japan's richest man. Mr Yanai is in Melbourne to open his first Australian store on Wednesday morning. It is No.1350 in his empire - and he has left little to chance. ''We hired our Australian staff a year ago,'' Mr Yanai says. ''There is customer service, and then there is Japanese customer service. We have spent a full year training our staff to get them to the levels we want.''

Australia has become a new hunting ground for the world's biggest fashion labels, with Zara, Topshop, H&M, and Uniqlo entering the market over the past 30 months. Mr Yanai differentiates his brand from his rivals. ''They sell fast fashion, always changing the product lines. We have a very stable line, and focus on quality of materials with large scale to get the price we want.''

Like Zara, H&M and Topshop, Uniqlo directly sources its clothing from the low-cost factories of China and south-east Asia.

That business model has been followed by Target, Kmart and Myer in Australia, but none can purchase on a scale that allows them to compete with the global players. An average order of denim jeans for Uniqlo is 1 million units.

''Department stores are having a very difficult time, I know, but they have to understand the revolution that the internet has brought,'' Mr Yanai says.

Mr Yanai started his first clothing stores - the name stands for ''Unique Clothing Warehouse'' - in 1984, and in the ensuing 2½ decades has grown his Uniqlo brand and its parent company, Fast Retailing, into one of the world's largest fashion empires. After conquering Japan with his urban fashion designs, Mr Yanai now wants to conquer the world. He has been vocal with his ambition of surpassing Zara as the world's largest clothing retailer.

To that end, Mr Yanai will open a further 200 stores by the end of the year. After Melbourne will come new stores in New York, Paris and Shanghai before Sydney gets its own taste of ''the Uniqlo Way''.