Consumers seek cheaper, safer products tailored to their needs
By Kim Da-ye
Instead of finding a local interior designer, Kim Jong-tae, a 30-year-old IT worker who gets married this June, plans to visit the Bangsan Market in central Seoul to buy wallpapers and hire day laborers for decorating the new home for him and his wife.
A town usually has tens of businesses that maintain and renovate homes, but Kim prefers doing it himself, partly to save money.
Buying materials and directly hiring workers from the wholesale market would cost 20 to 30 percent less than what he would have to pay an interior designer, Kim said based on the information he gathered from his friends and the Internet.
The soon-to-be groom also bought paint and painting equipment from Moongori.com, an online shopping mall, to color window frames in the new home. He learned from various websites how to do it like a professional.
“There is a lot of information being shared online. You had to hire handymen in the past, but nowadays you can learn easily from blogs and books. Online shopping malls also give detailed instructions on how to use their products,” Kim said.
Kim is one of the growing population that foray into areas that traditionally belonged to the skilled.
There are no official statistics on the population while Gmarket, Korea’s largest shopping mall by revenue, said in a news release last Tuesday that the sales of “do-it-yourself” wood furniture — which have to be assembled or painted by consumers — in March grew 23 percent from a year ago. The sales of paint also rose 10 percent in the same period.
Consumers choose to do things themselves for several reasons other than saving money, which reveals much about what today’s consumers are like.
The Internet has played a major role in encouraging the ordinary with a plethora of information and online outlets that made professionals’ tools easily accessible.
For instance, Moongori.com, a leading online DIY shopping mall, has emerged as Korea’s Home Depot. It sells paint, furniture kits, fabrics, tiles, floors, lighting and heavy-duty machinery with manuals made easy for housewives and the non-skilled
“Judging by our increasing revenue and demand for DIY products, we believe this market is growing,” Hong Tae-joong, the CEO of the website, said. “Apart from saving money, people enjoy a sense of accomplishment. DIY has also become a trend.”
Moongori.com started from a small local hardware shop. After seeing an increasing demand for doorknobs ― moongori is a Korean word for doorknobs ― Hong decided to open an online store that has expanded fast ever since.
To make DIY even more accessible, Hong is considering runing offline classes because of the lack of DIY communities.
Aware of the trend, manufacturers are launching products made DIY-consumer-friendly. Chemical firm KCC has introduced Sensemel DIY, a paint that is applied effortlessly without dilution and Supro Wellbeing, an eco-friendly paint sold in a two-liter unit.
The popularity of DIY also represents consumers’ increasing distrust in manufactured goods, especially processed food.
Baking has gained much popularity among housewives as they are increasingly aware of nutrition and health issues.
A recipe for “Saewookkang,” a popular prawn cracker made by processed food giant Nongshim, is a good example.
The snack has been replicated by many housewives who want safe food for their children after a part of a dead mouse was found in a package in 2008.
Kkomachuchu, a 31-year-old blogger with two children who has published books on cooking and baking, has a Saewookkang recipe on her blog.
“There seems to be a lot of problems with food nowadays, so I decided to make it myself,” she wrote on her blog.
The word DIY, in general, tends to be associated with healthy, eco-friendly and natural. Royal Nature, a cosmetics brand that uses natural ingredients, runs regular classes on how to make natural soaps and cosmetics as well as a website selling ingredients.
Furthermore, DIY is a common method sought after for special occasions.
Lee, a 28-year-old office worker, and her boyfriend of five years have kept a tradition of hand-making chocolates for each other on Valentines’ Day. She buys the ingredients, molds and boxes online.
“I initially made chocolate on my own to impress him. It was easier to make than I thought, and in terms of costs, it is better to buy ingredients than paying for ready-made ones. With less money, I could make my boyfriend a lot happier,” Lee said. She adds that ingredients are sold in large units and she makes extra chocolate for her colleagues.
While DIY gained immense popularity in the West in the 1960s and 70s especially in the field of house renovation, Korea’s DIY cultures had been limited to housewives’ hobbies including making quilts.
As the culture spreads through a wider spectrum of people, DIY gives some people opportunities to start their own businesses and prepare for retirement.
It isn’t difficult to find a local carpenter’s shop running classes on weekend in which people learn how to make furniture not only for their hobbies but also for potential business opportunities.
In addition, many bloggers specialized in DIY have published their books and their websites are financially sponsored.
Hwang Hye-kyung, a housewife-tuned interior designer, became famous through her blog Lemon Terrace and published two books on renovating homes.
An online community run by Hwang that uses the same name is also the Mecca of housewives and anyone who are interested in DIY. As of Friday, there were over 5.1 million postings on the online community.
She has published a book in Taiwan and has collaborated with high-end paint maker Dunn Edwards in launching her own lineup called Lete Color.
The DIY market is expected to grow as consumers want products exactly tailored to their taste and know how that could save them money.
DIY has become a marketing phrase for products that involve consumers in the process of creating products.
GS Shop, an online shopping mall run by GS Group, has named consumers’ preference to choose insurance products, their terms and durations instead of fully depending on consultants “DIYing an insurance product.”
Telecommunication giant KT launched an “olleh pub” service which it called a “DIY social magazine.” With olleh pub, consumers can write, edit and share their own magazines.
One of the biggest events to Korea’s DIY scene would be the opening of Swedish DIY furniture firm IKEA.
Although it is yet to reveal any specific plans on entering the Korean market, it set up a local subsidiary last December and already purchased a 78,198-square-meter plot in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province, which is expected to host IKEA’s first Korean branch.
“IKEA’s entering into the Korean market is only the beginning. DIY is big in the West. The Korean DIY market seems to have grown, but is still at its early stage. Many large conglomerates will enter this business in the future,” Hong said.