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Macau Opportunities

Getting down to business

by Sophie Leung

Winnie Chow (right), human resources director retail Hong Kong
A S Watson Group (HK) Limited
Patrick Lui, buying manager
PARKnSHOP
Photo: Edde Ngan

Hong Kong household chain strengthens retail grip in Macau

The boom in tourism, including the opening of a number of massive entertainment complexes over the past year, has greatly boosted retail opportunities in Macau. With international brands vying for space to lure customers at the city's numerous giant gaming venues, one Hong Kong supermarket chain already has six thriving stores in Macau.

PARKnSHOP established its first shop in Macau in 1996, long before the current investment rush, says Winnie Chow, the chain's human resources director. "Our management has confidence in the Macau market and so the number of our shops there has doubled in the last two years," says Ms Chow.

The fast-moving consumer goods retail chain's Macau operation has been so successful that the company has set up a local office to support its daily functioning and merchandising. The chain has also had its eye on the greater China market for some time and has already set up a management team and opened a number of stores on the mainland.

Compared with its competitors, PARKnSHOP's product range is different. "We are offering Macau consumers a wider selection of international grocery items," says Patrick Lui, PARKnSHOP's buying manager responsible for trading in Macau. He points out that the chain's Imperial Banquet, SELECT and Best Buy brands, sold exclusively in PARKnSHOP stores, have proved popular.

Supply and demand

The chain has adopted a successful retail strategy involving the localisation of products in stores across the city according to demographics and customer expectations, points out Ms Chow. Sales of red wine, for example, perform well in the Taipa store, partly because of a large international clientele either living in or visiting the area at any time.

At the same time, sweet drinks such as melon milk sell relatively better in Macau than in Hong Kong, Mr Lui remarks. The chain therefore bases buying decisions on customer demands in its various markets.

PARKnSHOP's Macau expansion has brought not only capital but also skilled and high-calibre management staff to the city. While experienced staff transfer the retail supermarket expertise to the employees in Macau, there are also multiple benefits for the chain itself. "The Macau stores operate in synergy with those in Hong Kong and they also open up new channels for product sourcing," Mr Lui notes.

Apart from opportunities, Macau's burgeoning market also presents some challenges. Buyers need a firm understanding of the Macau government's import and customs practices, as well as the business culture of suppliers. Merchandising staff used to dealing with Hong Kong companies must adapt their strategies to effectively communicate with Macau suppliers, many of which are family-run businesses.

Hands-on experience

With these challenges in mind, PARKnSHOP provides special training for Hong Kong management staff working in its Macau stores. Training also extends to the chain's local employees to ensure that Macau stores offer professional service on a par with that provided in Hong Kong. Sessions are mostly conducted in Macau by experienced PARKnSHOP managers, but on occasion staff also travel to the headquarters in Hong Kong to familiarise themselves with the company.

Middle- to top-management professionals working for PARKnSHOP in Macau have excellent opportunities for career advancement, as merchandisers and store managers are always in great demand in the city, says Ms Chow.

As part of its recruitment efforts, the chain is looking for candidates interested in retailing who understand the differing needs of consumers. Prospective staff should be keen to learn and embrace new experiences. Managers in Macau have fewer resources at their fingertips than their Hong Kong counterparts and therefore have the chance to become all-round leaders with hands-on working experience in all facets of store operation, Ms Chow points out.

While it can be challenging to adapt to a new working environment, the Macau exposure can be rewarding for Hong Kong employees keen to move up the career ladder. Mr Lui is a case in point. Having completed the PARKnSHOP management trainee programme, he was promoted to buyer and recently buying manager. "The experience of working in Macau has enabled me to take a first step outside Hong Kong and to learn to cope with challenges," he says.


 

Taken from Career Times 30 May 2008, p. B4

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