For the first time in Asia, and following the success of its European Expeditions, Bluebell Group welcomed 10 international guests on a deep dive into Asia.
The Expedition by Bluebell is an initiative to provide insights and first-hand local discovery to brands wishing to enter Asian markets. Through the Group’s 65 years of experience, networks and know-how, a three day program was crafted to include the complete spectrum of the multi-faceted landscape of doing business in Asia and reflect Bluebell’s curated path: select, adapt, connect, accelerate and thrive.
For the debut edition, the destination chosen was South Korea, where Bluebell is the leading travel retail operator and curates brands not only for the domestic market, but for Chinese travelers.
The Expedition journey included one-to-one engagement activities with local consumers, influencers, and business partners; a full immersion into retail innovations, and learning from insights into Asian trendsetters, fashion styles and beauty desires.
Among the guests selected to join this edition of the Expedition were up and coming brands, digital natives, and established brands from different countries of origin and sectors, reflecting rising categories such as activewear with brands like APL and Ernest Leoty; Codage Paris, representing skincare brands; Ormaie, a fragrance brand working with natural ingredients only; and HSJ (Husenji), a Chinese fashion brand. Besides brands, investment firms such as Evergreen Investment and NEO Investment Partners were invited investment practices within the retail industry with Bluebell Group representatives and brands.
At the kick-off on 15th October, Ashley Micklewright, CEO of Bluebell Group, Bluebell Senior Management representatives from Hong Kong Headquarters and Korea, a representative from Bluebell Japan and the official media partner Retail in Asia welcomed guests.
Ashley Micklewright opened his remarks by saying “Through this Expedition we hope you will begin to understand the DNA of this country, to get a feel for the Korean consumer, as well as be exposed to both the domestic market and the travel retail market, which are very separate and distinct. Whilst Korea’s travel retail market is the largest in the world, estimated at USD 18 billion and accounting for 50% of the global spending, it is the influence and acceptance of Korean culture, such as K-Pop, theatre and soap operas across Asian borders that has played a major role in its development and given the country a global exposure.”
The three days were a combination of business, cultural and creative moments. The business part started with the introduction of Bluebell and the way it has been redefining the role of the distributor in Asia throughout the years explaining how each brand partnership is the result of a of a fully tailor-made approach to make it relevant to the market culture & dynamics.
Throughout the days, the guests discovered Korean domestic market and travel retail through presentations delivered by Bluebell Korea, market visits, retail tour and mystery shopping activities led by Bluebell Korea, LBI team and local influencers.
Adam, Co-founder of APL, said “What we have been seeing in this trip, we have been seeing it through a local lens”. “For instance, we did know House of Dior and Boon The Shop, but listening to the explanation about the design and what they represent for people living in Seoul, it is quite exciting”.
Guests exchanged with Bluebell team on the development of the domestic market, travel retail, the strong soft power boosted by the K-wave phenomenon till the discussion about Korean brands and their global expansion, especially in the cosmetics sector.
Sean Kim, Director of Business Development, Bluebell Korea, who walked the guests through the milestones of the development of the country, said: “Korea market has huge opportunity with global k-culture wave going global and the fast growing economy turning the Korean customers into diversified trendsetters”.
Guests were also introduced to local partners. Among others, Kakao Friends, whose Head of Studio, Jaime Lee, hosted the guests at their flagship store in Hongdae, and introduced the brand. During the visit, the guests learnt about Kakao Friends’ character and how it originated from KakaoTalk. This being an example of how the brand has evolved and how from building a strong domestic market, the brand is now planning a global expansion starting from other Asian markets.
Cecile Chevallier, Analyst at NEO Investment Partners specializing in luxury goods and services, said “the key learning from the Expedition by Bluebell is related to the Korean consumers. They are different from other Asian consumers and definitely very different from the European consumers that we usually interact with. They are way more connected and knowing the channels to reach them is key to the success of brands and here in Asia everything goes so fast that is quite impossible to cope with the pace.”
Cecile was also impressed by the size of Korea travel retail business and after the market visit commented “visiting duty free department stores was a great experience, I have never seen such a traffic into stores and confirmed what we perceive back in Europe that travel retail in Asia is a totally different business”.
The cultural aspect of the trip focused on understanding local consumers, but also addressed the rising interest into Korean design and brands. The guests had the opportunity to attend the Seoul Fashion Week and meet local designers developing their own brand over dinner to discuss challenges and opportunities to find their niche clientele in both local and global market. All the gatherings were also a moment for mingling and get to know each other and interacting with the different invitees, being Bluebell Senior Management, local influencers, and Millennial and GEN Z consumers.
With food being part of culture, the programme also included a cooking class at the Hyundai Card Library.
Amandine Azancott, Codage Paris’ CEO, shared with Bluebell her excitement for the journey and said “it has been an amazing journey, I would say that in 3 days with Bluebell we discovered what we would have done in 1 month by ourselves”. Korean market is very unique. Retail is is truly experiential and you can feel it. The way people shop in Korea is different and, therefore, you need to adapt retail concept to consumers’ expectations.”
She continued “the Expedition by Bluebell was a way to see what’s happening on this side of the world and see what we can transfer to the West. Bluebell truly opened its network to us, and built new doors also through the participants. Two words to define this rendez-vous: LEARNING and DISCOVERY. It is a gift for all brand creators and entrepreuneurs”.
One buzzword throughout the trip was definitely creativity. Besides the itinerary carefully curated to understand how creative content is key to engage Korean consumers, guests breathe creativity while walking around the city, visiting local shops, and discussing with the speakers. Among others, guests met Cheil, an international marketing agency sharing successful cases of localized marketing campaigns and Leferi, studio hosting YouTube Creators willing to develop their own brands.
The first edition of the Expedition by Bluebell collected positive feedback from the participants who left wondering where the next edition will take place. It was a good platform to exchange notes on retail business and bring together industry players with different backgrounds, but the common goal to understand Asia and their potential to operate in different markets.
Retail in Asia talked to the guests throughout the Expedition and they all agreed that more than discovering a market, this journey gave them the opportunity to see it through a local lens, to live it.
Interviews with speakers and guests and more insights on the Korea market are coming soon. Stay tuned!
For more information about the Expedition by Bluebell, write to us.