Although most fresh graduates or mid-level professionals with a level of merchandising experience do not immediately envisage a career related to lingerie manufacturing, this niche sector is now a seriously lucrative business, standing alone as a multi-billion dollar industry today.
Clover Group International Ltd is a leading intimate garment manufacturer specifically focusing on lingerie manufacturing with factories in mainland China and Cambodia, employing more than 8,000 staff. Locally in the Hong Kong headquarters, around 250 staff oversee operations and roughly 60 of them are merchandisers for key international clients such as Victoria's Secret, Lane Bryant and Gap.
To materialise ideas, the company's merchandisers oversee the entire process from the creative concept through to the product sale at retail stores. During the product-pre-development stage, they work directly with the designers and fitting technicians while also analysing marketing requirements and specific client needs, and simultaneously dealing internally with the research and development team to evaluate the feasibility of new ideas.
Up-close and personal
Two years ago, Angie Lau, chief executive officer, Clover Group International Ltd took charge of the half-a-century-old family business. Since then the company has seen some dramatic transformations. With a background in advertising, Ms Lau drew on her expertise plus a good marketing flair to enhance the image of the company for greater success.
However, Ms Lau stresses that the company's greatest asset is its people. "We've planned to roll out several innovative staff loyalty and retention initiatives from March this year for all employees. Benefits will include full coverage medical schemes for everyone," she explains. "More than 75 per cent of our staff are female, so regular medical attention is a top priority. This initiative is an important measure to show we care."
Clover is growing rapidly. Two years ago it produced a million brassieres a month. Now that figure stands at 3.5 million. The company's overall success is primarily related to its corporate culture and work environment. "At times, staff may work long hours but they hang in there with us. We also have a substantial number of former employers who have decided to rejoin the company. We're open-minded and people respond to that," notes Ms Lau.
While most companies usually reward their sales and merchandising team for increasing company profits, Clover has a different philosophy. Ms Lau adds, "We don't favour any specific department; everyone here is important. Clover is one company, one team. It entirely depends on merit, not simply individualistic, but as a team, too. An individual who excels will be financially rewarded and given a public accolade at the annual dinner."
An extra plus for a successful merchandiser is the opportunity to attend shows all over the world in venues like Paris, Lyon and Shanghai.
Due to the technical nature of the role, training is essential for all staff and Clover offers an array of orientation and training and development programmes for both new recruits and existing staff. The company also encourages staff to pursue their own individual interests and maximise their professional scope through job rotation, which guarantees exposure to different company sectors.
In order to be successful at Clover, a merchandiser must have sound product knowledge, a keen eye for current trends and excellent interpersonal and communication skills. "Staff should be fully capable of handling everything, including producing samples, giving presentations to clients, ensuring the fitting is accurate, adhering to production schedules and selecting fabrics. It's a demanding role, but the potential for advancement here is huge and we have a comprehensive appraisal system which rewards effort and innovation," says Ms Lau.
For those looking to become part of Clover's team, exciting opportunities lie ahead. Ms Lau emphasises that charisma is the most important attribute for success in the industry. Also, experience in lingerie manufacturing is an advantage.
Usually a merchandiser begins in a junior role, followed by a senior role and eventually, management. A strong educational background is encouraged but not a pre-requisite. "We're unique, passionate, caring and open — like a family," says Ms Lau.