The history of joint ventures and franchises between UK apparel retailers and Japanese partners has not been a happy one on the whole. Oasis, Warehouse and French Connection are just some of the chains which have opened with a bang and then left the market soon after. The UK giant Next is still here after 18 years, even though its partner has built a chain of just 15 stores.
Xebio has owned the franchise for UK apparel chain Next since 1996 but has very little to show for it. Before July it had just 14 stores in Japan, all of them small, cramped and poorly located. Next itself has more than 500 stores in the UK and 200 stores across 40 other markets.
Seemingly Xebio now plans to fix this and invest in building up the Next chain in Japan at last. In late July it opened the biggest Next store yet, and the most prominent. The 660 sqm store in Harajuku offers a much fuller range of Next clothing for men, women and children in a store fit shipped almost entirely from the UK.
Xebio says the Harajuku store will be a test case for expansion of larger format stores and hopes to convince SC developers of the chain’s merits should sales prove buoyant there. Even so the Harajuku store is still considerably smaller than Next stores in the UK, which are often 3,000 sqm and carry a range of stock for body and home that has made it a staple on most high streets.
Without larger stores it will be tough to communicate the Next brand and value offer, but Xebio says it will be working closely with Next UK to develop 1,000 sqm plus stores that will also carry the home fashion lines – likely to be popular here given the current boom in home decoration.
With Xebio itself making significant progress with its own chains, as well as acquired assets like Victoria, it remains a mystery why the Next franchise has been so poorly presented, and indeed why the UK firm has stuck by its partner for so long.
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