Hong wants cultural venue to take root at resort

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Hong wants cultural venue to take root at resort


Hong Seong-yul, chairman of the Mario Outlet said he wanted to create a prestigious venue where music, arts and literature lie in harmony. “I acquired the Herb Village to offer customers the experience of garden culture,” he said. The Imjin River flows in the background. [JUN MIN-KYU]

When Hong Seong-yul, chairman of Mario Outlet, acquired the Herb Village resort in December, for 11.8 billion won ($9.8 million), industry insiders were baffled as he had previously rejected moves by domestic and Chinese retailers to establish more branches.

The 62-year-old renowned pioneer of the domestic fashion outlet industry took control of the resort from Chun Jae-kook, former President Chun Doo-hwan’s eldest son.

Herb Village occupies roughly 57,000 square meters (14.09 acres) of land in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi. It is equipped with an extra-large greenhouse, outdoor garden, outdoor theater and handicraft class. Additional facilities include Club Flora for accommodation, Italian restaurant Farmer’s Table and a spa area. An outdoor swimming pool and museums are planned.

“I didn’t jump in to build a cash-cow accommodation business,” he said at an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last Saturday.


“What is more important is to provide customers with new experiences and value as a service providing company. I want to create a prestigious venue where music, arts and literature lie in harmony.”

He added, “Our neighboring Japan has a culture of resting in gardens. My goal is to form a culture where people can stay and enjoy the healing.”

He said he will not change too much of the existing exterior and will maintain the natural concept of Herb Village. Hong’s acquisition was thought to be in line with E-Land, Korea’s retail giant, which broadened its business scope from fashion, retail to the resorts sector.

Hong consistently emphasized the importance of “value and quality.” “I’m very interested in urban agriculture. Just think about a huge tomato farm in the middle of a fashion outlet,” he said. “I will continue my valuable work to combine nature into fashion and the retail business.”

With his Mario Outlet, Hong has shown great interest in connecting nature and customers by creating Mario Garden and Mario Animal Farm and he also offers rice he grew in his hometown to customers.

“I’ve been working in my private farm in my hometown Dangjin, South Chungcheong for 20 years,” he answered. “I always dreamed of some place like the Herb Village but didn’t get a chance [to get involved] until a close friend of mine introduced the village to me.”

Hong is still receiving requests from mega shopping malls in the region and China to launch a new branch of Mario outlet, but he said he has no plans for present.

Currently, he is keeping his focus on the Herb Village development and Mario Outlet’s product merchandising.

Recently a luxury goods sector, furniture sector and mega food and beverage sector were opened in the existing outlet followed by a launch of ETLand Price King, a digital home appliances retail brand, in November last year.

The outlet has become a one-stop shopping area for fashion, luxury and home appliances to foods and beverages and also a place for customers to spend time.

The outlet is also focusing on Chinese consumers. “Chinese tourists who visited our outlet spread good words about us and this has led to a two digit increase in the number of Chinese visitors every year,” Hong said. “We offer foreign language services, tax-refund service and also Dynamic Currency Conversion service [for foreign visitors].”

The second building for the Mario Outlet was built and opened only three years after the launch of the first outlet in 2001, at Gasan-dong, Seoul. By 2012, Hong opened the third building for the outlet, a 13 story wing to the outlet, breaking the notion that high-rise shopping malls cannot prosper.

Currently Mario Outlet attracts 100,000 customers in weekdays and 200,000 customers on weekends.

The annual revenue of the outlet exceeded 300 billion won last year. With more outlets such as the new W-Mall and Hyundai Outlet entering the area in recent years, the district has been turned into the Gasan fashion place with annual earnings of 1 trillion won.

“I started my business with the 2 million won I borrowed from my brothers in 1980 in Daebang-dong, Seoul, to build this giant shopping outlet and I would like to use that money for valuable means.”

BY CHO DEUK-JIN [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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