SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Korea Bizwire) – From coin-operated laundromats to unmanned karaoke rooms, a notable number of self-service businesses have sprung up across South Korea in recent years on the back of growing popularity.
With a cold snap that saw temperatures drop below minus ten degrees Celsius over the weekend, South Koreans left with frozen pipes rushed to coin laundromats to do their washing.
With laundry loads piling up, one laundromat owner in Seongdong District in Seoul showed up at the store to handle the overwhelming amount of washing that had to be done.
“Even though it’s meant to be a ‘self-service’ launderette, demand was 10 times higher than average this weekend, so I had to come here and help,” the owner of the venue said.
A 33-year-old individual referred to only as Lee, who used the coin-operated laundromat over the weekend, was surprised to see a number of people leave after getting tired of waiting.
“I’m surprised to hear that I have to wait until tomorrow to get my washed clothes back. I have to say after seeing seven people come and leave, I feel rather lucky now.”
While the surge in the number of customers during this weekend can be explained away by the glacial temperatures, a closer look at market figures shows that self-service businesses are enjoying a resurgence.
At the forefront of the self-service industry boom is ‘coin noraebang’, which refers to unmanned karaoke rooms.
According to the Asia Economy Daily, the biggest South Korean coin karaoke room manufacturer TJ Media enjoyed exceptional sales last year, thanks in large to the soaring popularity of coin noraebangs.
Despite the sluggish economy, self-service karaoke services were projected to be a success at venture fairs last year, becoming the trendiest business idea\ and leaving behind comic book and book cafes.
For only a 500 won coin, you can sing not only one, but two songs in full, and customers can walk into any empty room they find without human interaction at the counter. The cost-effectiveness and convenience have made coin noraebangs one of the hottest business models in the entertainment industry.
On one hand, employers are driving the self-service industry, as they are looking for ways to cut down on personnel expenses in the wake of a big minimum wage hike this year.
From the perspective of customers, however, it’s hard to break down the success of self-service karaoke rooms without mentioning the sense of privacy that regular karaoke rooms don’t provide.
Self-service karaoke booths were installed at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) last year, one of South Korea’s elite universities, following a number of student suicides. The unmanned entertainment systems proved to be an instant success.
“When I’m stressed or annoyed, I often go to a coin singing room to release stress. I’m happy that we have karaoke booths on campus,” says Im Tae-shik, a student at KAIST.
The affordability and privacy, which allows one to release stress without being judged or bleeding themself dry for overpriced drinks, is closely tied to the growing number of single-person households in the country, as most coin karaoke booths are designed to accommodate one or two people.
One-person families are on course to become the most common household type in all South Korean cities and provinces in the next 30 years, according to data from Statistics Korea released last August, as a result of the country’s low birthrate and rapidly aging population.
The rise of single-person households has spilled over into a number of sectors of the economy, prompting the health and food industries to cater towards what will become the largest demographic of the South Korean population.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)