When the rest of the fashion industry players rely on their top designers to lead the trend; Uniqlo, a Japanese brand collaborated with a university years ago to set up its R&D centre for some researches to improve its fabric quality and versatility. What could the purpose of that be to a fashion company, you might ask. Uniqlo shocked the market with a stunning natural growth in revenue for the past five years that made the successor of the family business, Tadashi Yanai the richest man in Japan.
Apart from Uniqlo’s sales strategy to focus on the mass market and “slow fashion” that worked well, a lot of customers including my wife were surprised to get some extra fine clothes and super-light winter wear at a comparatively low price, thanks to Uniqlo’s continuous efforts on research and development. When Uniqlo opened its first store two months ago in Malaysia, the queue was obviously longer than the local launch of the iPhone 4 not long ago.
Long queue at Uniqlo Opening in Malaysia
Research and Development (R&D), is a substance a lot of businesses tend to ignore, with the exception of technology companies.
When a technology company like Apple emphasizes on design while others do not, it helps catapult Apple to be the most valuable tech company in the world. In contrast, for a design company like Uniqlo, emphasizing on R&D definitely worked to their advantage too.
In the business world, we have less hi-tech companies, and to most of other non-tech companies, an R&D department usually has never crossed their mind. The big corporations like the banking industry or newspaper companies that do maintain big IT teams, have a main function of maintaining the server and to ensure computer systems are up and running at all times, and R&D would not be in their priority list.
When a half-century-old banal family business like Fast Retailing Group - Uniqlo rejuvenates itself from a nobody to be a somebody through its R&D efforts, it should tell a lot.
Indeed, if we broaden our minds a little further, the concept of R&D does not necessarily involve programmers or scientists. In reality, we need R&D, when we need some sort of improvement in the company. We need R&D, when we have a problem in our system. (If you think your system is perfect and does not have any problem, then perhaps you have become one of the problems in your system.)
R&D not necessarily hi-tech
Certainly there would be some discontentment in one’s system. Do some research, identify the problem, develop some solutions, execute the solutions according to a plan and the practice should become a regular scientific internal process for any good company. And it’s not necessary to confine R&D to company products or services, any improved method towards efficiency or cost saving can be considered an R&D process too.
In fact R&D should be everywhere. The spirit of R&D should be cultivated at all levels in a company.
And, in a tech company like us, we have a formal R&D department to produce better FingerTec hardware and software. At the same time, we have non-R&D department heads to think about delivering better services, and improving administration processes. I am proud to announce that FingerTec has managed to reduce the technical response time from 24 hours to 12 hours starting this month, and we have revamped the Advanced Repair Program to further benefit our technically apt resellers. We also have released our improved version of installation guides for almost all FingerTec models.
When a company amplifies the R&D spirit, you can expect more surprises.
by Teh Hon Seng, CEO, FingerTec HQ