Pangyo stores offer experiences for male shoppers

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Pangyo stores offer experiences for male shoppers

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Left: The BMW Motorad Cafe in Lotte Premium Outlet’s Icheon branch. Top: Visitors try out remote-controlled cars at a track installed inside Electro Mart’s Pangyo branch in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. Above: A upscale barber shop operates at Hyundai Department Store’s Pangyo branch. [SHIN IN-SEOP]

The Pangyo branch of Electro Mart in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, quickly became overcrowded with male company workers donning ID cards around their necks just a few minutes past noon on May 25.

These were the employees and entrepreneurs of hundreds of start-ups and other tech firms belonging to what is often dubbed Techno Valley, out shopping after having an early lunch.

With their takeout lattes in one hand, a group of 10 Kakao employees took turns trying out two-wheel electric scooters in one store, while a group of workers from Samsung C&T, which recently relocated to the neighborhood, carefully perused the goods on display.

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Most of them appeared to be in their 30s, some were in their 40s and 50s, but every one of them suddenly slowed and began to glow with child-like joy as they approached the gigantic Iron Man model installed at front of the store.

“This is my second visit after its opening,” said a 30-something Techno Valley IT worker, who asked not to be named. “The store has a lot of stuff you don’t see online or anywhere else.”

He said he had stopped by the store to purchase a gift for a friend. His next stop was a corner of the store featuring hundreds of different kinds of imported beer from around the world.



Fashion-maven men

There’s an old saying that goes, “Women relieve stress by shopping while men become stressed by shopping,” but this is no longer true.

Despite the current economic downturn, the market for goods targeted at men has been growing as an increasing number of men have begun more readily opening their wallets.

Korea’s male cosmetics market, which has been posting an annual growth of 10 percent for the past several years, is the largest in the world at 1.2 trillion won ($1 billion). According to Hyundai Department Store, men spend 643,000 won on fashion and cosmetics items at the store annually, which is around 100,000 won more than women spend on goods in the same category.

The avid male shopper has become a breakthrough for retailers that have been suffering from shrinking revenue. To combat the trend among male shoppers who tend to window shop at brick-and-mortar stores and then make purchases online, retailers have come up with “male-only” experiences.

Pangyo is the very scene to observe how that concept plays out. It has the largest resident population for a single district within Gyeonggi at 500,000, and a sizable portion of its 70,000 commuters work in Techno Valley. Many of them are relatively young developers and entrepreneurs who are keenly interested in products that sit at the bleeding edge of technology.

Korea’s big three retailers - Shinsegae, Hyundai and Lotte - have been waging a war of nerves to win the eyes of these “Pangyo men.” The first shots are fired each day at the Pangyo subway station.

In front of the elevator at exit No. 4, which is linked to Electro Mart, is a Lotte Mart signboard promoting Kidult Zone and Himart. Shinsegae is the operator of Electro Mart. Meanwhile, at exit No. 2, which leads to Lotte Mart, a signboard reads, “If you turn around and head out through exit No. 3, you see the Pangyo branch of Hyundai Department Store.”

Electro Mart’s Pangyo branch was launched on May 3. Unlike the three preceding branches, housed in either Shinsegae Department Store or E-Mart, the one in Pangyo has an independent setup, challenging the Lotte’s Hi-Mart, which has been there for three years and stands only 476 meters (521 yards) away.

Electro Mart, which opened its first branch inside the E-Mart in Kintex, Ilsan, north of Seoul last June, identifies itself as a “playground for men.” Its symbol, Electron, and its free gifts are meant to bring out the “boy” in male adults.

Its Pangyo branch spans 3,471 square meters, 20 percent larger than the first branch. The store sells a variety of consumer goods, from TVs and refrigerators to vacuums and computers.

But when it comes to model cars, audio-related products and remote-controlled cars, which are enjoyed by a small demographic of hobbyists, these items are displayed in a more attractive manner.

The “boom master” space allows visitors to listen to various audio devices. Visitors may also build their own remote-controlled car circuits and race on them. And in the bike section, cycling pros provide sage advice concerning purchases and repairs.

Such arrangements are a result of Shinsegae’s meticulous planning to appeal to an increasing number of “kidults,” a portmanteau of “kids” and “adults.” Korea’s consumer market for kidults is estimated at between 500 billion won and 700 billion won per year and has been growing by 20 percent annually for the past several years.



The ‘try it, buy it’ principle

Electro Mart’s Pangyo branch has a few other strategic goods and services up its sleeve. In the basement of the store is a concept clothing and accessory store for men and a beauty salon for men called “Barbershop,” where male customers can get a classic shave and scalp-massage service.

“The revenue from the concept fashion store accounts for 15 percent of our store’s total revenue,” said branch manager Lee Nam-jin, “and the barber shop is more popular than initially expected.”

Yoo Chang-shik, head of the market analysis team at E-Mart, says E-Mart’s Ilsan branch noticed that the total number of hours customers spend grew from one to three hours after it opened Electro Mart.

The first Electro Mart branch had an average of 14,000 visitors per month, and was propped up by the mart’s popularity. Shinsegae plans to open seven more Electro Marts in areas such as Wangsimni in northern Seoul and Jukjeon in Yongin, Gyeonggi, by the end of this year.

The competition in Pangyo among retailers began in tandem with the opening of Hyundai Department Store in the area last August. The Pangyo branch posted 210 billion won in revenue just 100 days after opening, a record for any department store in Korea.

Behind this success are various facilities unseen in other department stores. Its sixth floor is packed with products and services that allow male visitors to “experience” the products by using or testing them. The store has also installed a lounge where customers can watch sports games on XTM, a male lifestyle cable TV channel, and a high-end barber shop.

The Gangnam branch of Lotte Department Store in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, is trying to model itself after Hyundai’s Pangyo branch, as it has just finished refurbishing the facilities for the first time in 16 years. The old department store is going to house a kidult store named Doctor Funnest, as well as a camera store called Men’s Agit.

Lotte opened the BMW Motorad Cafe in its premium outlet branch in Icheon. The cafe not only sells BMW motorcycle garments and accessories but also beverages directly imported from Germany. The main target for the store is men in their 40s and 50s with a sizable disposable income.

The retailer was motivated by the unexpected success of a BMW pop-up store at the main Lotte Department Store branch in central Seoul last June. In just 15 days, the pop-up store raked in 130 million won in sales.

“We have reserved a space for motorcycles,” a Lotte Department Store spokesman said, “so male customers can spend time taking bike tours in the neighboring area with their own bikes while other members of their family can shop around the outlet.”

Lotte currently runs a hybrid barbershop that has collaborated with the casual clothing brand Club Monaco on the fifth floor of the department store’s main branch. There, customers can shop for clothes and get haircuts.


BY JEON YOUNG-SUN, SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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