Timing is everything. This week the LPGA and its new licensing partner MK Trend, opened the first LPGA Gallery store in South Korea. The stand-alone shop in a busy Seoul commercial complex is the first of what tour officials say could be as many as a dozen by the end of the September and 100 there within a couple of years.
And the grand opening came right on the heels of Inbee Park winning the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games.
“Obviously we had no control over what happened (inside the ropes at the Olympics)” said Jon Podany, chief commercial officer of the LPGA. “But having a store open two weeks after Inbee won the gold medal, and with the LPGA never being more popular in Korea, we feel like it’s a good time to take a big step like this with our brand.”
The partnership with MK Trend is relatively new, coming together in July 2015, which makes the scope of this launch even more eye-popping. The company is vertically integrated, designing and creating the merchandise as well as building and operating the stores.
“They’ve moved at lightening speed,” Podany said. “If they hadn’t had the same model with the NBA, I’d be more concerned (by how fast this has happened), but they have had incredible success with a quality sports brand, and we’re going down a similar path. They’ve given us comfort that they know what they’re doing.”
In five years of partnering with the NBA, MK Trend has opened 107 stores in South Korea and elevated the brand beyond the league’s wildest expectations. Boy bands wear NBA gear on K-pop videos and the streets of Seoul are filled with young people sporting Lakers, Bulls and Knicks logos.
“This has two big benefits for the LPGA,” Podany said. “Having 100 storefronts in a city like Seoul with 10 million people is a huge branding opportunity. You think about having 100 storefronts in Manhattan: that would be a good comparison. It represents a big revenue upside for us. As we get close to that 100-store figure two or three years into this deal, it will represent a seven-figure income for the LPGA.”
The merchandise will look much different from what you find at the typical LPGA tournament. Designers have come up with items that go beyond golf. That’s something Podany has looked at carefully. The last thing the tour wants is a risqué product being sold with an LPGA logo.
“They have 300 different styles with a younger orientation,” Podany said. “They have a performance line, men’s and women’s apparel and accessories. There are winter jackets and vests. It’s very hip. That’s one of things that really attracted us. They wanted to go much deeper than just golf clothing.
“And, yes, it’s edgier than what we’re used to but they have had success going down this path with the NBA. We think it adds real breadth to our brand. (MK Trend) is producing and designing everything so there is a big trust factor here. They know the market better than we do. We have to have some faith that they’re going to make the right calls. We’ve had a few things that we haven’t been comfortable with but very few.”
The licensing agreement also extends into China where MK Trend plans to make another massive push, as it did with the NBA where it opened 100 stores in two years.
“China is a little ways down the road but we’re very comfortable with MK’s abilities in that market,” Podany said.
Still, the concept is confined to Asia for the time being. There are no plans for LPGA Classic stores in the United States.
“Yet,” Podany said, adding the ultimate qualifier.