As international fashion brands continue to extend their reach into the Hong Kong and mainland China markets, opportunities abound for keen aspirants who expect more than a monthly paycheque from their jobs.
Sammy Li, sales merchandiser, H&M Hennes & Mauritz Ltd (H&M) was one of those who seized the opportunity and discovered his job offers more than meets the eye.
After graduation, Mr Li initially became an administrator for a courier company and felt stifled with the daily routine. "I wanted a job that would provide me sufficient room for interaction with people, allowing me to put my creativity and energy to good use," he says. "I decided a sales position with one of the retail gurus would do just that and when the opportunity arrived, I grasped it with both hands."
Mr Li subsequently joined a branded fashion retailer where he started as part of the frontline sales followed quickly by promotion to a supervisory position. While climbing the ranks, Mr Li kept a close eye on the market and was tempted by exciting prospects that H&M might bring. "I was hesitant at first but after discussion with my peers I decided to give it a try," he recalls. "It wasn't until I joined H&M that I began to appreciate its unique corporate culture and ethos."
Mr Li stresses that Hennes & Mauritz Ltd offers him the perfect opportunity to stretch his interactive wings, and with the imminent opening of three new H&M stores in Hong Kong alone, he can look forward to an ever-increasing network of career development possibilities.
"H&M encourages communication between staff and departments, avoiding traditional hierarchical channels," Mr Li notes. In other words, both management and staff are free to speak their minds and communicate honestly and regularly.
While working closely with the country manager, Mr Li also oversees the supply and demand of merchandise in the Shanghai store alongside conducting store visits as the brand continues to lay down plans for further market penetration. "We are running a hectic schedule so it is essential to document the company's every move at an international level," he says. "With more than 1,400 stores in 28 countries, keeping track is imperative for retail success."
Apart from that, Mr Li is also involved in several other responsibilities. "I normally start the day by checking sales figures from different stores which provide stock and sales data plus information about promotional successes and the latest seasonal trends," he explains, emphasising also that a merchandiser's role requires a great deal of pragmatism to maintain a close relationship between stores and the various departments.
Previous experience in high fashion has furnished Mr Li with the necessary skills and broadened his vision in the retail industry. However, three months prior to H&M's opening in Hong Kong, he joined seven other colleagues for a three-month training programme in Enschede, a city in the eastern Netherlands.
"It has been a major trend for fashion brands to send employees around the globe, or to the mainland to experience and implement new retail expansion plans," he says. "The programme was pretty intensive and it has helped me learn a great deal about the H&M culture as well as the overall store operation. Other than being trained to deal with any potential crises, I also witnessed differences in European and Asian shopping habits."
Mr Li's store experience during his training in Europe coupled with duty on the shop floor improved his understanding of different customer expectations. "Customers in Hong Kong and on the mainland know what they want, so their expectations are much higher. To cater for this, staff must adapt to serving customer needs and consider factors such as whether certain materials would suit the Hong Kong market," he says.
Shop floor experience may have polished Mr Li's management skills and helped him boost team spirit, but he notes that hard work is nevertheless the essential.