Deal of the week – Uniqlo opts for SJ Berwin to advise on first UK stores

SJ Berwin has won Japanese store giant Fast Retailing as a new client and has completed the acquisition of the first UK stores for its fashion chain Uniqlo.
The new stores on Brompton Road, London and in prime retail sites in Wimbledon, Uxbridge and Romford will open on 28 September.
SJ Berwin property partner Martin Wright led the acquisitions and is managing the firm's relationship with Uniqlo. He was assisted by James Mallender. The work also involved cross-selling into corporate and other areas of the firm.
The firm's property practice, along with a number of other medium-sized UK firms, was approached by the Japanese company last year.
Wright said: “We have good relationships with various Japanese clients. We believe we were recommended to Uniqlo by existing clients. Uniqlo came to see us and other lawyers early in 2000. It was a very casual business meeting. It obviously wanted to ensure that it was going to get good value from its suppliers. We got on very well and effectively made a pitch. We were absolutely delighted when it asked us to do its property work.”
SJ Berwin's other Japanese clients include JVC.
Wright's team took instructions on the new stores from Uniqlo's London office, which is run by UK staff and key Japanese personnel in liaison with its Tokyo headquarters.
Wright said: “They are very well versed in US and UK legal practice. They are very focused in their approach and their reporting structures are quite short and innovative. We didn't really get any problems with the fact that they were not an established retailer in the UK.”
Advisers to Uniqlo and the vendors involved worked to a tight timescale in order to meet Uniqlo's UK launch date scheduled for later this month.
The landlord for the Brompton Road store close to Harrods, was Royal & SunAlliance Pension Trustees, advised by Abigail Mitchell at Dechert. The existing leaseholder was the Austin Reed Group, advised by David Bowden at Leeds firm Read Hind Stewart. Bowden took work for Austin Reed with him when he moved from Hammond Suddards Edge in March this year.
Bowden said: “It was not a straightforward transaction in that it was highly time-pressured because Uniqlo was only interested in the site if it could take it by a certain date. Consequently, there were various terms in the agreement to assign the lease to make sure we performed to the timescale. Having said that, everybody involved did everything they could to make sure it happened.”
The vendor for the Romford site was Equitable Life, advised by Hugo Gerrard at Denton Wilde Sapte. Anne O'Neil at Coudert Brothers advised Capital Shopping Centres on the sale of the Uxbridge leasehold and Kate Turnbull at Lovells acted for Friends Provident on the Wimbledon store.
Uniqlo plans to open 50 stores in the UK.