In a blast from the past, retailers hit the road

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In a blast from the past, retailers hit the road

Last month, Park Kye-shik, a resident of Yeonsu District in Incheon, bought two toilet bowls and a bathtub. One unique aspect of Park’s purchase was that it was not made inside a design or retail shop, but a truck operated by furniture giant Hanssem.

“I wanted to redesign the bathroom, but for a long time I wasn’t able to visit a store because I was too busy with work,” Park said. “I was happy to see the truck [called Hanssem Bath] that had the exact products I wanted in front of my apartment.”

Local companies are setting up stores in an open environment outside buildings to get closer to their customers. The concept is similar to peddlers in the past who carried all kinds of miscellaneous goods.

Target areas of local companies are places without store branches, like mountain regions, and large-scale apartment complexes in smaller cities.

Tabon Books, an online bookstore, for example, began offering customers a book-truck service in March. The 2.5-ton truck has stalls filled with about 3,000 books and the truck runs all across the country, including Chuncheon and Wonju in Gangwon; Chungju in North Chungcheong; Jeonju in North Jeolla; and Yeosu and Gwangyang in South Jeolla. Earlier this month, the book truck was stationed at major tourist sites nearby like Gyeongpodae in Gangneung and Haeundae in Busan.

“Small bookstores have lost their positions in neighborhoods with the opening of online bookstores and big bookstores,” said Yoo Sang-ryeol, head of sales at Tabon Books. “Customers who lost their favorite bookstores nearby where they live visit our book truck. Several hundred people visit our truck every day.”

Yoo added that some customers buy 30 books at once.

An average of about 100 books are sold per day at the book truck, which began with the idea that there would be high demand in neighborhoods where small bookstores had closed. The result is success.

One of the benefits of trucks is retailers can sell a diverse range of products today and a whole range of new products tomorrow, depending on the season.

In May, Chungho Nais, a manufacturer of health appliances, promoted a relay marketing of its Iguassu water purifier using a truck selling its most popular products. In times of bad weather with yellow dust in the spring, Chungho Nais marketed air cleaners and cosmetics, while during monsoons and periods of sultry heat it marketed dehumidifiers and ice-making water purifiers.

The food and beverage industry already has been selling products from trucks. When liquor companies launch new products, they give out free samples from trucks near restaurants. Also, they open temporary stores at beaches or water parks in the summer. Budweiser, for example, has been promoting its Bar Attack event this month in Seoul’s Gangnam, Sinsa and Hongdae areas, where trucks are stationed near popular pubs. Employees from the truck give out free drinks to people inside the bars.

Industry people note that operating trucks where they can interact directly with customers is in line with efforts to complement mobile and online shopping services.

Although online sales are increasing, retailers still feel it is necessary for them to meet with consumers directly.

“By operating a movable store, we’re able to grasp consumer trends more clearly,” said Choi Jin-ho, a director at Hanssem. “Currently, we’re in a testing stage so there is only one truck, but the number is expected to expand.”

BY CHAE YOON-KYUNG [angie@joongang.co.kr]













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