The rise of camping in South Korea is supporting the expansion of Kolping, one of the few Korean outdoor brands focused on this category. The brand's sales surged by about 30 percent so far this year, encouraging it to ramp up investments in production.
The Kolping range comprises camping equipment from tents to backpacks, sleeping bags and much more, along with outdoor garments. The company is also the Korean licensee and distributor of Garmont and Bailo, which helps to complement its own range.
The three brands are sold together in about 300 Kolping stores in Korea, including 40 that are owned by the company itself. Some of the brand's products are also sold in supermarkets, which partly make up for the shortage of multi-brand outdoor stores in Korea by offering several (often relatively cheap) brands of equipment. The company's entire turnover is projected to reach about 25 billion won (€17.7m-$23.3m) in 2012.
Sales have been clearly bolstered by Korea's adoption of a five-day workweek for the entire family, from adult employees to schoolchildren, as detailed in our previous issue. While camping barely existed in Korea until then, Kolping sold more than 10,000 camping “sets” this year. The company's chief executive, Man-Young Park, said the demand had supported a drive to improve the quality of camping products in Korea: A survey conducted by Kolping showed that functionality is by far the most important aspect for Korean consumers of outdoor equipment.
About 30 percent of the products are made at Kolping's own factory in Korea, while the remainder is manufactured by partners in China and Indonesia. But to cope with the growing demand, the company has also started sourcing garments in Myanmar (the country formerly called Burma), which is increasingly opening up to foreign investments.
The company has built its own facility with 4,000 employees in Rangoon, starting with the production of down jackets and pants. Kolping managers said that labor costs in Myanmar were about 30 percent below those in Indonesia, with far less unrest among workers (trade unions were not exactly popular under the country's former authoritarian regime).
Buoyed by the takeoff of its domestic market, Kolping has already started to explore the Chinese market, where it has 50 stores and an objective to reach a network of 500 stores in five years' time. The company exhibited at the Asia Outdoor fair in Nanjing earlier this year and is considering investments in Europe next year. The focus for its international expansion is firmly on equipment in the mid-priced category.