A combination of passion and hard work has helped Benny Tsang build a career in the fashion and accessories industry. However, the 26-year-old entrepreneur actually studied IT at university, a discipline seemingly unrelated to his current position.
After obtaining a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Melbourne, Mr Tsang realised he was not as interested in the industry as he had previously thought. "I realised I needed to put my mind to something I truly enjoyed," he recalls.
He then studied for a master's degree in international business at Monash University. Immediately upon his return from Australia, he opened his first shop in North Point in April last year. Since then business progress has been rapid and rewarding. In just 19 months, the company has grown from a mere three-people company to an enterprise with more than 20 staff.
Mr Tsang says he didn't have any idea about what he wanted to do when he finished Form Five in Hong Kong. Interestingly though, a part-time sales job in a women's casual wear boutique gave him a good grounding in the business.
"I learned a lot in that shop — although it has since closed its doors — from sales skills, inventory, everything that people need to know about opening a shop," he adds. He had to work hard and the experience helped him to succeed when he set up his own business.
"You need to be aware of trends and yet be creative"
He was also able to use what he learned at university, even though it was seemingly unrelated. "My knowledge in computers and programming helps me a lot when choosing the kind of software this company needs," he notes, adding that smart choices effectively save time and money.
As director of ENIGMA, a retail chain of five shops in Hong Kong, Mr Tsang oversees both sales and market development. He also spared no time in braving overseas markets, acknowledging that overseas diversification is vital for the company to survive tough local competition.
Just nine months after opening, the company became an exhibitor in the fashion weeks in Japan and France. The move proved to be a huge success, gaining 30 per cent of the orders for the coming year. "In this trade, you need to be aware of trends and yet be creative. To succeed, you also need to work very hard," he admits, acknowledging he is a workaholic.
A 12-hour working day for Mr Tsang invariably starts with reading sales reports from the five shops. "When reading the figures, I decipher what improvements need to be made," he explains. And a chain of decisions follows, from product design, shop window display, to shift changes of shop staff.
A lot of his time is also spent monitoring each shop's individual performance, which he hopes to delegate to a sales manager in the near future. This new appointee will then become a "new pair of hands", freeing him up for more strategic decisions regarding the overall development of the company.
"I like making decisions, and this is probably why I enjoy my work so much, on top of the obvious sense of achievement," Mr Tsang confesses. "Being the kind of person that can't be idle for one minute, I need to plan and decide on each step, knowing that I am making progress," he adds.
He also noted that this is a fast-paced market, not just in terms of changing trends, but also the way shops in good locations can be snapped up. Rent for shops has risen about 20 per cent since the first days of his business and hunting for a good shop requires tactics and patience. "To negotiate a good deal with desirable shopping malls, I also need to convince them we have a good brand," he says.
Mr Tsang details his three-year plan to grow the chain to a network of 10 shops in Hong Kong and then expand to mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and Australia.
First of all, a warehouse-cum-office is currently being established in Guangzhou, to support the company's expansion.
"Everything is happening quickly and if we want to have a niche in the market we must move fast too," he says, adding that even in a market where rival copying is common, being the first still makes a big difference.
Fast expansion is, however, not without its own risks. "If the economy crashes dramatically as during the Asian financial turmoil, we could lose everything. But we're not the only ones facing this kind of risk. We must do our best as we see fit, act fast and be ahead of the competition," he remarks. He is also keen to learn more about management, consumer behaviour and the Japanese language.
Mr Tsang's business was set up at a time when the local economy was recovering. Mr Tsang reveals another major factor in the company's success as being his two great business partners. "Without them, this company would not happen," he emphasises.
Mr Tsang and his company have come a long way, but it is apparent these are only the preliminary steps of a journey to create a Hong Kong-based multinational retail empire.