Breaking the mould

by Rachel Sproston

Paul Doodt (seated) and Phillip Doodt, directors
A.Y.N. Accessories Trading Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Family-run business an expanding global enterprise

The typical image of a merchandising company is one of bustle with staff rushing around to meet tight client deadlines. At the helm is often a stressed and overbearing director calling the shots. Paul Doodt, head of A.Y.N. Accessories Trading Limited has taken proactive steps to ensure his company does not fit this mould.

The administrative section of A.Y.N. exudes an air of tranquility and space. Panoramic views stretch into the New Territories beyond large windows and the entire open-plan area is bathed in natural light. Staff sit facing each other in small groups with some employees on the telephone, while others research the latest designs.

In addition, there is a special area for doctoral students from the University of Münster in Germany who conduct research and analysis on A.Y.N. as a company which forms part of their PhD theses.

"We welcome students from universities in Germany because our business began there and continues to expand rapidly in Europe. Student research into our overall business processes is also enlightening and we can learn from each other," he explains. This propensity to share best practices is prevalent throughout A.Y.N. and staff meetings are organised in a way to ensure each person has a say in how the company functions and progresses. "It's hard at first for Asian employees who are not accustomed to voicing opinions, but eventually their input adds value to our enterprise," he notes.

Family ties

Due to the scope of services A.Y.N. offers, the Hong Kong business spans four floors which include a fully-equipped laboratory to test the latest accessories for washability, wearability and safety. "Several competing firms can undercut our pricing structure," notes Mr Doodt. However, he adds that A.Y.N. can always match these offers giving "practically any price a client desires," but this would not cover accessories which have met rigorous European and Hong Kong safety standards — a prerequisite for anything leaving Mr Doodt's firm.

Further a field, A.Y.N. recently began a joint venture with an Italian firm which is currently one of the top pattern specialists in Europe dealing in high-end fashion products. "Our arrangement is that we fabricate their collection in Hong Kong for a reasonable price, so we always remain up-to-date with the latest design trends," Mr Doodt adds.

New A.Y.N. offices are also opening in both Turkey and India. "Our office in Turkey is already up and running and the one in India is on track to open in two months' time," he notes. Naturally, such rapid expansion requires a great deal of travel and Mr Doodt flies between Hong Kong and Germany, and often beyond, at least once every month. As such, Mr Doodt's son has taken the reins in Hong Kong while he concentrates on the expanding arm of the business. Meanwhile, Mr Doodt's wife oversees operations in the German office in Grasberg so the firm is truly family run.

Human capital

Concerning current recruitment needs, Paul Doodt explains how much the company allocates to job advertisements and the current cost of comprehensive training for new employees. "It takes about six months for newcomers to learn to use the company's technical systems effectively and productively. This is obviously expensive for us as employers and if staff only stay for a year or so we do not reap the rewards from our investment," he notes.

His advice to candidates considering a career in the field is to gain a technical grounding in the industry and work as an intern if possible to gain a better overall insight. The five interns currently employed in the A.Y.N. Hong Kong office profit from exposure to important clients such as Esprit which has specific requirements and high standards.

"Timing is also an integral part of our success as an enterprise and staff must appreciate this," says Mr Doodt. Certain clients now have 12 seasons of clothing and on-time delivery is of paramount importance. "If we have promised an item for a certain date and complications arise, I airfreight the product to ensure we do not renege on the deal," he reveals.

Technical knowledge is essential but Mr Doodt adds, "We are looking for people who have the necessary technical base but who also have an established professional network in the region which will facilitate our sourcing process. Nowadays sourcing must be efficient and the products sourced must be safe. We need the exact product at the right time which conforms to worldwide safety standards," Mr Doodt concludes.

Right time right place

  • Timing essential for merchandisers today
  • PhD students in situ to learn and share findings
  • Open-plan office space fosters sharing culture
  • Typical hierarchical structure abolished so every employee valued

Taken from Career Times 28 March 2008
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