Following the introduction of the free trade agreement between Australia and South Korea (KAFTA) in 2014, trade between the two countries has boomed. Korea is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner, making the Korea-Australia corridor ripe for business-savvy Aussies.
Having been exposed to the thriving Korean skincare industry while on university exchange to Seoul in 2011, I began bringing Korean cosmetics back to Australia. They were so popular that I founded STYLE STORY in 2014. Our business involves curating a selection of the best Korean cosmetics for the Australian market, and this has proved to be successful, with “K-Beauty” now widely heralded as “the next big thing in beauty”.
Other Aussies have made inroads into the Korean market selling everything from ginger beer and vitamins to pawpaw cream, wine and more. In 2016, I moved to Seoul to help grow our business, while also managing our team on the ground in Brisbane.
If you want to make the most of the new opportunities presented by KAFTA in the Korea-Australia corridor, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
Understand the culture
Korea has a long and rich culture that informs the way Koreans do business and what they expect of business partners. Take the time to understand Korean business culture and how Korean businesses operate.
I learnt first hand the importance of demonstrating your commitment to Korea, interest in your partner’s business and your mutual relationship. Meeting people and taking the time to establish a solid foundation will get you much further than talking over the phone.
Expect red tape
Whether you’re trading in Korea or Australia, there will be red tape and obstacles to overcome. Australia has the strictest regime in the world for importing cosmetics and navigating this hasn’t been easy. I recommend making sure you obtain the correct advice, do your due diligence and remain flexible – you’ll need to be able to roll with the changing regulatory landscapes as best you can.
Plan ahead to close the distance
If you’re committed to Korea long-term, you’ll need a plan to overcome the physical challenges of having business partners or teams in different geographical locations. Our team has found success by establishing a chain of command on the ground in each country, with clear lines of reporting. We work as a team by remaining in contact throughout the day with the latest technologies, and I regularly fly back and forth from Korea to Australia to meet face-to-face.
Learn the language
If you have to wait for other people to introduce you to a contact or translate something into English, you’re already behind the ball. There’s no substitute for living and breathing the culture and speaking with people in their native language.
I took the time to learn Korean (while also working full time) and have reaped the benefits first hand. Having a Korean on your team will also offer invaluable opportunities to build your business.
You can’t be an expert in everything. Seek help from friends, family and any Koreans you know to help establish and strengthen your business. I would also recommend reaching out to organisations like KOTRA, AUSTRADE and the State and Territory Trade Commissions.
The Korean Government in particular is very supportive of its exporting industries, and Australians benefit from this. We are regular guests of the Government at industry events throughout Korea, enabling us to meet new suppliers and share valuable industry knowledge.
Lauren Lee is the CEO of STYLE STORY, an Australian online Korean Beauty store that stocks the hottest and most innovative K-Beauty products. Korean beauty products are world famous for their advanced formulations, high quality, use of natural ingredients, innovation, design, and best of all, affordability. STYLE STORY is the authorised distributor of the best names in Korean beauty, including Benton, Elizavecca, Missha, April Skin, Lindsay and Tosowoong as well as up-and-coming brands like Beauty of Joseon, Thank You Farmer, PACKage, Soroci, iUNIK, Polatam and many more.