Can't buy me love

by Jacky Wong

Ivania Wong
vice president, merchandising
Contempo Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

Merchandising offers rewards for dedication and loyalty

In the current vibrant economic environment some Hong Kong companies face challenges retaining staff. Merchandising remains one sector that is especially prickled by the high turnover rate, in part because of its heavy workload. To counter this, one company is promoting a caring culture, aiming to attract new talent and retain existing staff.

Contempo Limited is a Hong Kong-based apparel buying agent that specialises in sweaters, though it has grown to become a global player in sourcing and product development for all categories of apparel and hard goods. It employs over 200 staff in its Hong Kong office and its product range includes, knits and woven garments, home textiles, hard goods, and fashion accessories such as shoes, handbags, belts, cold weather accessories and costume jewellery.

Ivania Wong, vice president, merchandising, Contempo Limited acknowledges that staff turnover is a universal issue and discloses that the company recorded a 25 per cent rate last year. "The current economic situation aggravates staff turnover rates, especially among junior staff in merchandising. They are tempted by conditions in high-flying industries such as finance which provides better remuneration packages and attractive job promotion opportunities," she says.

Having been in merchandising for two decades, Ms Wong knows the fast-paced environment and extended hours the job requires do little for the industry's appeal. "Compared with other professionals, the workload of a merchandiser is quite heavy and diversified," she says. "There are merchandising duties like filing, products follow-up and delivering samples. There is an array of people you may work with or be responsible for such as companies' internal staff, product manufacturers, suppliers, forwarders and their bosses. You must also be prepared for long working hours when dealing with overseas clients and as a result many new employees find it hard to take the pace."

During recent years, Ms Wong adds, the textile and clothing industry has become more demanding due to rising materials costs, more stringent compliance with product quality standards and increasing demands from overseas clients for better pricing and value added products. These also prompt prospective jobseekers to think twice before entering the industry.

Ms Wong says though being a merchandiser can be a tough job, it is a very rewarding profession. It attracts those who are fond of challenges, and who want a dynamic work environment and job satisfaction.

Viable strategy

To tap into the top echelon of prospective employees, Contempo maintains close contacts with industry professionals and trainers in academic institutions. "To capture the best talent, it is very important they feel that the company can provide quality learning opportunities, job satisfaction and exposure to new things," Ms Wong says.

To further encourage new recruits to join the industry and to retain existing staff, Contempo promotes a company culture that values its human resources. "People are our greatest asset," Ms Wong says. "We treasure every member of our staff." Contempo is one of the first companies in the industry to implement the five-day workweek scheme, which is one of the major considerations for candidates during recruitment. It conducts regular reviews of staff salaries to keep them competitive with other industries and continuously enhances employee benefits such as study allowances and training programmes.

According to Ms Wong, most new recruits who leave because they are not ready to cope with the pressure and heavy workload that are inevitable parts of the job. In this regard, the company arranges orientation programmes and training opportunities that ease the settling in process. Department heads also maintain close relationships with new employees, encouraging discussion and developing a sense of family. "Communication is essential between employees and their employer. It helps to build up a long-term relationship. We always take the lead in understanding the needs of our employees," she says. There are also opportunities to transfer internally across divisions and to the company's overseas offices, as the company helps every employee find his or her niche.

Though conditions for merchandisers can seem onerous, Ms Wong says the career prospects for high-flyers are bright as there is huge demand for middle and senior management staff who have considerable years of experience and are familiar with the latest market trends. To this end, the company reserves special promotion opportunities for employees who demonstrate their loyalty through several years of service to the company.

Ms Wong advises that those who are interested in the industry should be prepared for hard work in their initial years. This time, she notes, will be beneficial for them and they can lay the foundation for career growth in a dynamic industry. "Merchandising is a challenging and diversified career," Ms Wong emphasises. "The work of a merchandiser is dynamic and you will have many chances to expose yourself to novelties and the latest fashion trends."


Taken from Career Times 20 July 2007
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