Thursday, April 07, 2011

Cars, Coffee, Golf, Culture, and Korea 2011

By Don Southerton, BCW Editor

April 2011

I’ve just returned from a trip to Korea. Although my daily work centers on Korea-facing global business, much of which is outside Korea, my time in Seoul and the surrounding area keeps me current on Korea’s ever-changing workplace and society.

Some things stay constant over the years like non-stop public works construction, new residential high-rises, and office building projects.  The Korean people are always warm and friendly, too.

So what’s new and different?  Cars. Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors new designs continue to shine. I was especially impressed by the new Hyundai Grandeur (badged the Azera in the U.S. market). The Grandeur stands out on the streets of Seoul.

Regarding the Korean car market, with GM Daewoo now renamed GM Korea, the Chevrolet brand was in a number of high profile locations like COEX and Incheon Airport. More surprising the former GM Daewoo dealers are boldly marketing the Chevrolet brand in cool showroom signage…and well done, too.

Next coffee.  Over the years I’ve commented about the proliferation of coffee shops. Coffee wars continue with market leaders Starbucks, Angel N Us and others battling for prime locations and market share.  I see no immediate slowdown, with most shops busy. The key factor driving business is Seoul’s high urban population density.

For Starbucks, their location in the heart of the city near City Hall and the Westin Chosun has been remodeled to showcase traditional Korean culture. Décor incorporates traditional latticework and roof tiles.  Much of the location’s interior is constructed with material reclaimed from old buildings, which reflects Starbucks’ Corporate Social Responsibility.

Korea Starbucks
Blending East and West

As for coffee, just when one thought the market was saturated, another brand is getting lots of attention—Paul Bassett. Building on his reputation as a world competition barista winner, the brand has a handful of new cafes in high profile corporate locations. They appeared busy even with prices for a small drip coffee at 4000 won (about $4) and medium drip at 5000 won (about $5). Pricey even when compared to Starbucks and the other premium brands.  Décor is very trendy and minimalist.  I see this as a success model.  I see Smashburger, Roxberry Juice, Paciugo Gelato, and Third Wave cafe concept Caffe Calabria brands following this up-scale model.

Paul Bassett Coffee
Cool, Trendy, Up-market
Finally Golf.  The focus of my trip centered on the golf market.  One thing I’d like to share is how popular screen golf has become. The leader in the industry is Golfzon. In fact, their name is becoming synonymous with indoor screen golf.  Several factors make screen golf popular. One is that few can afford to go golfing at private gold courses. Second, screen golf blends well with urban workplace culture—teams have diner and then play golf in a nearby facility.

Culture. To conclude, for those involved in Korea-facing business, understanding the dynamics of Korea’s ever changing society, economy, markets, and major business groups is vital. My insights into cars, coffee, and golf provide a snapshot of Korea 2011, modern society, and popular culture. Bridging Culture Worldwide is dedicated to providing much needed consulting, coaching, research, analysis, and strategy 24-7-365.


  1. Trip to Korea is really awesome. Even I had also been there last month for an official visit. That was a nice experience.

  2. In Korea the leader of Golf industry is Golfzon. In fact, their name is becoming synonymous with indoor screen golf....Thanks for sharing I am Costa Rica Real Estate Business starter and want to visit Korea soon.