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Line Friends opens Hollywood store to conquer millennial market

Korean company teams with K-pop idols BTS in global expansion push

Fans hold BT21 characters outside the Los Angeles Line Friends store.   © Line Friends

LOS ANGELES -- Line Friends, the South Korean character brand based on messaging app Line, opened its second and largest U.S. store in Hollywood Friday, as it targets American millennials to bolster its worldwide expansion plans.

The app's ubiquitous cartoon characters, created as stickers for Line and its 200 million active users worldwide, have been used in a wide range of different products, from clothing and toys to cafes and theme parks, since they were spun off from Line Corp. as a stand-alone company in 2015. 

The company hopes the new store in Hollywood, which makes its grand open to the public Saturday, will give it another push into the global market, opening new frontiers for Asian culture. 

"Line Friends is seeking to become a go-to place for millennials in the U.S.," James Kim, CEO of Line Friends, told the Nikkei Asian Review, noting that consumption of content continues to change, particularly with millennials.

The company is hoping to leverage the U.S. market as a springboard for accelerating global expansion, he added, with an emphasis on "interactive content." 

According to Line Friends, the new location will surpass its flagship New York store in Times Square to become the largest store in the U.S. And just like the Times Square shop, the Los Angeles store is situated at a prime location: the center of Hollywood, across the street from the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are hosted.

Line Friends opened its second and largest store in the U.S., situated in the center of Hollywood.   © Line Friends

More than 300,000 New Yorkers and tourists visited the Line Friends store in Times Square during its opening week in July 2017. Over 15,000 visitors were drawn to its pop up store in Los Angeles last year, which helped Line Friends' U.S. revenue grow by 338% in 2018 compared with a year earlier.

But Line Friends' ambition does not stop there.

Asian culture in the U.S. has largely been limited to the Asian community. Line Friends aims to break the "glass ceiling" by expanding its brand recognition to a wider audience, an effort that is spearheaded by its partnership with the wildly popular Korean boyband BTS.

BTS has been one of the few Asian artists who have been welcomed and integrated into mainstream American pop culture. In 2017, they became the first K-pop band to perform at the American Music Awards and, as of the week ended June 15, the band's songs have spent a record 100 weeks atop Billboard's social media-driven Social 50 chart. BTS sold out all of their North American and European 2019 tour within days when tickets went on sale in March.

"Korean-pop and Korean-drama are gradually gaining popularity and visibility in America via diverse channels," said Jooyoun Lee and Lisa Longenecker, researchers at St. Edward's University, in Austin, Texas, in a paper published in 2018.

"BTS, in particular, has significantly penetrated the U.S. market by interacting with fans on social media, meeting the psychological needs of individuals, and filling in for the lack of boy bands in the current American music scene," they added.

The band's success in the U.S. is unparalleled among other Korean acts, which is why Line Friends chose to partner with BTS as part of its goal to further attract the mainstream U.S. market. The company launched its "BT21" line of characters, which are based on the band's seven members, in 2017. Since that launch, Line Friends has increased recognition in the global market, particularly among millennial customers, according to the company.

Besides BTS, Line Friends has also collaborated with popular U.S. brands such as shoemaker Converse, clothier Anti Social Social Club, audio maker Beats by Dr. Dre and retailer Hot Topic, to strengthen its brand presence outside the Asian community.

The company said it will explore more partnerships with media and entertainment companies in North America to develop new content and intellectual properties.

"Line Friends plans to launch its official sales platform in the U.S. soon as a part of the company's attempt to offer differentiated Line Friends brand experience and strengthen communication with customers in the U.S.," Kim said.

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