To millions of K-pop fans, hello82 has been a destination to see their favorite idols take on viral challenges, play celebrity babysitter for kids, try karaoke in a foreign language and star in other videos that are ready to share. But in the past year, the company behind the multilingual YouTube channels has expanded its e-commerce offerings to better meet the needs of viewers. The results have led to success for the four-year-old company at Billboard charts and as of last week completed their first “tour”.
When ATEEZ‘s first US shows since 2019 kicked off in January for The Fellowship: Beginning of the End tour, the band was selling out arenas but had yet to break into the Top 40 of Billboard 200 like many of their K-pop peers. While a relationship with Korean management label KQ Entertainment led to the channel’s most viewed video (an 11-minute prank of ATEEZ member San disguised as a break-dancing senior has over 32 million views), hello82 saw an opportunity to better connect with the band’s ATINY fans directly in the US.
With offices in Los Angeles, hello 82 spent 2021 becoming a trusted hub for international K-pop fans to shop for physical album imports, merchandise and virtual experiences like live events and artist-fan calls during the pandemic, after COVID-19 concerns forced the company to expand into different offerings. Distribution of physical albums in the US has helped Korean artists soar high The billboard album chart (mainly thanks to being issued in collectible deluxe packs, each with a standard set of items and randomized elements). hello82 saw how expanding their e-commerce channels could create a new business opportunity while delivering the same communicative aspect they sought to develop with their video content.
“We just wanted to meet where the demand was with the supply,” says Sang H. Cho, co-founder of hello82’s parent company KAI Media and its current COO, from his office in Beverly Hills. “We just felt that few K-pop groups are well-represented and given the kind of recognition or credit they deserve when it comes to things like charts. Obviously, we’re a company that wants to make money, but we also understand the fans, their psychology and their needs. To get them involved and to make them feel the sense of achievement and community. And of course we knew that the opportunity was there for all of us to achieve it together .”
What began in 2021 by distributing two ATEEZ albums from a virtual storefront – September’s Zero: Fever Part.3which peaked at No. 42 on the Billboard 200, followed by December’s Zero: Fever Epilogue at No. 72 – turned into bigger ambitions for ATEEZs The World EP.1: Movement album released last July. Not only was this ATEEZ’s first release after reuniting with their ATINY fans during their early 2022 tour, but it also ignited a new musical era for the group.
“We saw the potential to make it much, much bigger,” says Cho, as his team seeks out both traditional big-box retailers along with local, fan-driven pop-up stores to enable beyond the virtual.
Chain stores have increasingly carried more K-pop content, but almost exclusively by those with label deals or representation in the U.S. While RCA Records under Sony Music signed ATEEZ in 2019, the group had yet to have its music available in retail stores stateside. . (RCA declined to comment at the time of the announcement of its relationship with ATEEZ) With Cho’s background in retail finance, plus other internal relationships, hello82 quickly settled in.
“There are a couple of retailers that understand and know the K-pop market pretty well: Target is one, Barnes & Nobles is another, and we’ve worked with those two quite a bit,” says Cho. “Those guys don’t necessarily buy from new vendors very easily — especially when it comes to physical media, but we were lucky enough to know some people who could get us in front of those buyers pretty quickly in an official way and make sure that we check all the boxes to make sure we qualify for them.”
The move instantly connected hello82 and finally an ATEEZ album to some of the world’s biggest retail giants. The World EP.1: Movement was available online and in Barnes & Noble stores, as well as online stores for Target, Walmart and FYE. “Margins are thin at these big retailers,” says Cho. “But they also give you a lot of coverage and you get a lot more fans who aren’t close to places like big cities, so we’re happy about that.” There is hope that future ATEEZ projects will be in actual Target stores.
Still, perhaps the most significant part of their chart goal was creating more than a dozen pop-up shops across the country directly with fans. With a hej82 representative in each store, local ATINY volunteered (some reaching out on social media before the company could even call for help) after being vetted by the team to help work at their local locations, which were decorated with photo walls, giveaways and custom merch.
“We knew we could probably do a few pop-up stores on our own, but we really wanted to activate the fans and make them one of the stakeholders in the whole campaign,” Cho says of the 19 pop-up shops they had. in hotspots like Chicago and Atlanta, but also in smaller cities like Yuma, Ariz. and Southfield, Mich. Using cafes and existing stores (some very familiar to K-pop fans like NYC and LA’s LINE Friends stores that sell BTS‘ BT21 and TREASURE‘s TRUZ products), fans could pick up their copy of The World EP.1an exclusive box version prepared by hello82 and connect personally with other ATINY.
“Doing pop-ups has its own advantages; it can be flexible in terms of locations, timing and all that,” reflects Cho. “I just feel that K-pop fans in certain areas now deserve a place they can go to to hang out, not just access to all products and albums. These fans like to just meet. And it’s not just K-pop fandom, I feel like it’s all most fandoms: I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles football fan, and I’d go to a sports bar just to hang out with other goofy MFs from Philly. “
The strategy was successful with ATEEZ The World EP.1: Movement opening at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 (rear Beyonce and Bad rabbit) with 50,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending August. 4, with album sales comprising 47,000 of the total, according to Luminate. The set has earned 86,000 equivalent album units in the US through December. 1.
The first week marked a massive jump from the opening sales Fever epilogue (which earned 16,000 units in its first week) and Fever Part.3 (13,000). Along with KAI Media’s co-founder and current CEO Jae Yoon Choi, Cho emphasizes ongoing dialogue with Billboard and Luminate to ensure that “we do everything by the book.”
“It’s the first time we’ve done it on this scale, so of course there were some hiccups, but the release week was actually pretty calm,” he recalls. “We kind of knew where we were going, but you never know… when we were at the top of the charts, I mean, obviously we were ecstatic. Not just us, but with the fans, that we got a lot of ‘ thanks’ and ‘good jobs’. Our community manager, who talks to many of these guys directly, also shared a near-tears of joy moment on release day and then, ultimately, when the charts officially came out. So it was exciting.”
The company kept that energy alive with pop-up shops throughout the 11 dates of the North American leg of ATEEZ’s The Fellowship: Break the Wall tour, the group’s second tour of 2022 and most expansive run yet. Each of the seven cities on the tour, along with two that were not on the tour route, set up shop for at least two days each as the official tour merchandise pop-up.
“After the successful album distribution, we are now distributing merch in conjunction with their upcoming North American tour,” explains Cho. “We have always seen ourselves as a bridge for management companies between South Korea and the US market, where we can help them connect directly with their fans here and create a lasting fandom.”
Stores in LA and Oakland opened ahead of ATEEZ’s November. 7 and 8 shows at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Fans could grab new items like jackets and T-shirts while participating in activities like writing sticky notes to ATEEZ.
At the tour’s final stop in Toronto that December. 2, hello82 showcased what might be their most visible project to date as they played their “Project Star 117 – From ATINY to ATEEZ” video played during the show with on-camera messages from fans and the sticky notes written by pop-up participants. The band itself watched with a fervent look and led to the leader Hongjoong crouch down in tears. The official upload video has more than 50,000 views in less than five days.
hello82 is not a dedicated music service company, but they watch industry trends and consumer behavior to consider new business.
“The music industry is now kind of maturing into this real combination of on-demand, ubiquitous consumption of music, but also this very active and passionate kind of fandom activities as well as driving a lot of commerce,” he adds. “I think all these things have always been part of the music industry, but it’s coming back with a vengeance now, and we want to take part in all of that. The K-pop audience, K-pop fans, the is kind of at the forefront of all these activities, so we see a bright financial future, and so do our investors.”
Cho notes that ATEEZ’s strategies have caught the interest of other artists and labels looking to make an impact in America. However, the company is interested in partners who will engage strongly with fans and “be a little bit experimental.” There are also hopes for the company to take the business beyond North America and “hopefully eventually expand into other underserved markets around the world.”
While Cho and colleagues directly discuss high-level plans with Team ATEEZ (“Credit goes to KQ for having the foresight and ATEEZ for being a great band – they were kind enough to give us the opportunity and they were willing to risk a lot ”), they also work in hello82’s retail stores themselves.
“We make sure everyone does a rotation,” says Cho. “The look and joy you see on fans’ faces – especially when you pull the right photo card for them – that’s what makes our day.”