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China

Cornering the mainland market

by Agnes Chan

Angus Wai, general manager, human resources
Fairton International Group Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Established retailer seeks fresh talent for expanding China operations

To gain a strong foothold in the increasingly competitive fashion retail industry in mainland China, progressive business development and comprehensive support for staff are crucial.

"We now have more shops and staff on the mainland than we have in Hong Kong, and so expect our China profits to overtake those of Hong Kong, although it remains the most important city in the fashion retailing industry," says Angus Wai, general manager, human resources department, Fairton International Group Limited.

Founded in 1955, Fairton International Group Limited operates high-end fashion stores in Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, retailing premium leather goods and specialising in ladies' fashion. In response to market demand, the expanding company is also branching out into men's fashion and other potential markets.

In season

With the mainland economy taking off and Chinese consumers' increasing spending power, competition in the retail industry is becoming more intense. Fairton has seen the number of middle-class customers on the mainland growing progressively in recent years and their purchasing power is expected to increase dramatically in future, says Mr Wai.

"Just one per cent of China's 1.3 billion population is willing to buy high-end fashion, but this number alone will be able to give the market a tremendous boost," he adds. "With old brands rejuvenating themselves and new ones emerging, competition is getting fiercer."

Fairton has branches in more than 20 Chinese cities and continues to add new brands and product lines in order to boost its business capability. The company also plans to expand its market share in major cities and will, among others, open three shops in Macau.

"Our aim is to concentrate on brand-building and brand-imaging in Macau by selecting suitably upmarket brands," Mr Wai remarks, adding that many tourists to the city might opt for luxury goods like watches, jewellery or bags, rather than clothing, with their gaming proceeds.

Career opportunities

Currently, more than 50 Fairton frontline staff are deployed to work in mainland China. This includes the 20 employees working on branding, business development, shop operations, merchandising, marketing, fashion presentation, human resources recruitment, as well as warehousing.

More positions are opening up for senior managers and brand-operations and structure-training specialists on the mainland and in Macau. Basic requirements include a university degree and excellent language skills, ideally in Cantonese, English and Mandarin, Mr Wai says.

The group welcomes candidates who are open-minded and adaptable. Certain personality attributes are needed in order to embrace challenges such as a new lifestyle, working environment and network. "Frontline staff should appreciate that the mainland style of living and working is very different to that of Hong Kong," Mr Wai points out.

Leadership can also differ markedly and managers should realise that they cannot simply employ their Hong Kong management style in a mainland context, as this might make it more difficult for them to adapt to the new working environment.

"Hong Kong is a westernised city and employers here are used to expressing their views and accepting those of others," Mr Wai notes. "Mainland colleagues may be reluctant to do so, but they are willing to do the job and do it well. Hong Kong staff should appreciate the differences and provide their mainland colleagues with the guidance to take opportunities, even if they make mistakes in the process."

Staff going to work across the border should be prepared to get the job done in a flexible, ethical and practical way. Candidates should also be open to establishing new contacts.

Mr Wai believes that intercultural awareness is an advantage, as are substantial work experience and exposure to the China retail industry.

The group screens potential recruits through discussions, interviews and situational analysis to test their problem-solving skills and hands-on experience.

Fairton provides full support to staff on short-stay work visits to the mainland, including allowances, reimbursements and assistance. Accommodation, utility bills and air tickets are taken care of. The group also endeavours to fully accommodate its long-stay staff's needs. "For example, candidates looking for long-term career development over the border should be prepared for a slight difference between the mainland China and Hong Kong insurance schemes, but we try our best to keep the differences minimal," Mr Wai concludes.


 

Taken from Career Times 30 May 2008, p. B3

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