The role of merchandisers is evolving as competition intensifies in the apparel industry. In particular, sound product knowledge and communication skills are essential for continuous success.
Founded in Hong Kong in 1975, LAWSGROUP is an apparel-manufacturing conglomerate providing end-to-end garment production and supply chain solutions to retailers and labels all over the world. The group's business portfolio encompasses finished garment production facilities in the sweater knit, cotton knit and woven categories in 13 different locations across southeast Asia.
Veteran practitioner in apparel merchandising and production, Eiffel Pau, who is managing director of Lawsgroup, points out that nowadays merchandising in the manufacturing trade involves the role of "supply chain facilitator", as opposed to a mere "follower" of client instructions.
Mr Pau reveals that the role of a merchandiser in the past was quite linear to ensure client requests were met and all manufactured products shipped to the correct destinations in a timely fashion. However, due to rapid growth in the industry, the contemporary market is now incredibly dynamic, which has resulted in greater demands on merchandisers to guarantee more deliverables.
"Clients now look for innovative, diversified products to maintain and enhance their position in the market. Therefore, merchandisers must adopt multiple roles to facilitate the production process, ensuring clients receive finished goods in the shortest time frame," Mr Pau explains.
Merchandisers at LAWSGROUP exemplify this multiplicity, as they are required to supply products for seven to eight seasons annually to the majority of apparel retail customers. Orders from clients are now quantitatively smaller than before and wider in variety. Interaction between merchandisers and customers is also transforming as production lines, suppliers and internal departments vie to ensure their deliverables meet stringent client criteria.
"The maintenance of close and effective communications with clients is essential. Simultaneously, merchandisers must also monitor the production status, ensuring manufactured products meet exacting standards," he adds.
Providing convenience for merchandisers when handling client requests and aiding the supervision of quality production, Mr Pau details the tailor-made IT infrastructure developed at LAWSGROUP. Through the system, production progress from factories worldwide can be updated in real-time to its manufacturing system. As such, access to close monitoring without geographical constraint is a mere click away.
According to Mr Pau, LAWSGROUP's success formula boils down to winning clients. "We lead clients into action rather than wait for clients to act." Essentially, LAWSGROUP is integral in generating client demand. In-house research and development teams are dedicated to individual clients. In addition, fashion designers participate in high-profile fashion shows and exhibitions to keep abreast of the latest market trends and incorporate innovative ideas and concepts in the design of new prototypes.
He remarks that the position is indeed tough, but satisfaction is immense when client requests are expertly fulfilled and teams are lauded for their effective cost management and productivity, which ultimately benefit the company.
Extensive product knowledge and sophisticated communication and negotiation skills are indispensable for successful merchandisers. Since apparel merchandising requires a wide-ranging knowledge base, including raw materials, fabric types, colours, finishing and wash-effects, practitioners should also have full mastery in these areas.
"On-the-job training is important for merchandisers to learn the latest technologies and business trends. In addition, successful merchandisers take control of the cost effectiveness of the apparel supply chain," Mr Pau adds.
For people with an interest in developing their careers in the industry, Mr Pau advises cultivating professional knowledge and expanding work experience first because these are the fundamental features which help merchandisers develop professional expertise.
"People who have experience in the fashion or apparel industry are sought after. However, those willing to learn and can demonstrate complete dedication to the profession are also recruitment targets," he says.
Apparel merchandising openings at the entry level are available for fresh graduates alongside a one-year hands-on merchandising trainee programme.
The programme covers basic training in fabric technology, workmanship, manufacturing techniques and also soft skills like effective communications and negotiation. Employees who have completed the programme have the opportunity to further develop their merchandising career as assistant merchandisers at the company.