When a golf apparel retailer from South Korea or Japan is looking to tap into the American market, a visit to Olympic Golf is something of a prerequisite.
Olympic Golf, the largest sporting goods retailer in Los Angeles Koreatown, draws a clear line between itself and the rest of the sporting apparel businesses. Goods of prominent golf brands—including Titelist, TaylorMade and Callaway—are on display at the store. Olympic Golf also possesses the U.S. sales rights to eight Japanese brands—Yamaha, KAMUI, PRGR, Onoff Daiwa, G3, MU Sports, Katana and URA.
“Korean and Japanese brands contact us as their first step before entering the U.S. market,” Olympic Golf president David Noh. “We’re essentially the largest retailer that’s bridging Asia to the U.S.”
The start of Olympic Golf was not so prominent, though. It first began as New Seoul Sports in 1984 by the entrance of New Seoul Hotel. There were several golf apparel shops at the time, but New Seoul Sports by far had the smallest business scale.
Despite its limited resources, Noh applied a distinct strategy that would go on to separate his business from the rest of the industry. The golf apparel industry at the time was a lot bigger back home in South Korea than it was in the Korean community in the U.S., leading many of the similar businesses to merely focus on targeting tourists or serving as suppliers for overseas markets. Noh differed himself by seeking dealership contracts with various brands and targeting the local market.
Thanks to his tireless efforts, Noh was able to promote his business as the one that sells authentic products. The business soon gained traction, so much so that it was able to take over four business spaces inside of the New Seoul Hotel building to expand.
For Noh, the IMF crisis that once ravaged the South Korean economy in the late 1990s was a new opportunity. As many of his fellow Korean-Americans struggled to prolong their business model that was heavily predicated on its relationship with companies back home, Noh relocated his business to a much larger, 10,000-square-foot space on Olympic and Kenmore, its current location.
“It was a risk in a way,” Noh said. “But the lease conditions were good since it was a difficult time for many people back then. So I saw it as an opportunity. I didn’t think that I’d fail.”
With a new spacious location, Noh diversified his items on sale and made it possible to enable customers to visit his store as a one-stop shopping location for all of their golfing needs.
As the South Korean economy recovered, his decision to take risks amid the difficult times began to pay off. Noh soon expanded his business even further, opening a branch in Fullerton in 2004 and another in Rowland Heights in 2005. Today, he is operating six branches across Southern California.
Another turning point for Noh was in 2012 when he acquired the exclusive U.S. sales rights of Yamaha, one of the major brands in Japan. Noh still takes great pride in that Yamaha first approached him, as it trusted him to play the role of a mediator in helping the brand settle in the U.S. market. A month later, Noh signed another exclusive sales rights with MU Sports. He now boasts a list of eight Japanese brands which he has acquired the exclusive sales rights to.
“Simply having the sales rights does not guarantee anything,” Noh said. “I actually end up with more responsibilities with every contract I sign. I’ve been turning down a lot of offers now, but I feel bad about constantly saying no.”
In the case of Onoff, Noh acquired its rights after the business actually belonged to a different retailer in the U.S. Noh gambled on its potential and has helped the Japanese brand increase its revenue by five times.
Another source of Noh’s business is in supplying out of state businesses. Olympic Golf is currently supplying goods to approximately 100 businesses around the country.
For Noh, there are bigger dreams now.
“I want to explore opportunities in Northern California and open a branch in Texas,” Noh said. “We want to become a recognizable national business.”
Recently, Noh signed another sales rights for GOLFZON, a simulated virtual reality golf game.
“I plan to open a business that’s a blend of a sports and gaming bar in Buena Park within this year,” Noh said. “I’m going to work until people think of ‘Olympic Golf’ as soon as they think about the sport golf.”
By Hyun Woo Kim