Developing the right product at the right price is a challenge that merchandisers confront on a daily basis.
Successful merchandisers generally have a strong desire to learn, says Kevin Lau, general manager, global marketing, Joyas Manufacturing Limited. "A catalogue may contain many products with all sorts of variations. Therefore, it is important to learn the differences between them. This also helps to facilitate innovative ideas for groundbreaking new items," Mr Lau explains.
Initially, Joyas' main line of merchandise was silver-plated desktop items. Over the years, the company's product range has expanded to more than 5,000 items, including personal accessories, jewellery and home ware.
The company has embraced the concept of multi-functionality, developing a host of value-added products, for instance, a photo frame incorporating a clock and a skipping rope with a counter to track progress.
"One of our most popular products is a silver-plated stationery set for travellers. It incorporates a memo pad, pen and calculator to make the small kit multifunctional," says Mr Lau.
Strategic planning is an important part of merchandising while following market trends, recognising emerging niche markets and building a business network are also crucial to success in the industry. A specialist in silver-plating, Joyas is a member of the Hong Kong Diecasting Association and other related chambers of commerce.
"By joining relevant industry associations, we are able to cultivate a vast network, which helps us access information and the latest trends and, as a consequence, satisfy our clients," Mr Lau explains. "Learning from other successful companies in the business is vital. Local and overseas trade exhibitions provide opportunities to communicate and share experiences with our counterparts."
Europe and North America are Joyas' major export markets, but the company is actively researching potential new markets and has identified a rising demand for silver-plated products in Japan, Dubai and Russia. As a result, the company has assigned dedicated staff to work on these markets and intends to participate in trade shows in these regions.
The role of merchandisers includes everything from brainstorming initial ideas to translating retailers' expectations into pragmatic production models for the manufacturers. They monitor the entire product development process, from the first stages of casting and die cutting to final quality control prior to packing and shipment.
Hong Kong merchandisers face stiff competition from the mainland, but Mr Lau believes that they still have the edge. However, international market savvy and exposure are crucial for Hong Kong to maintain its competitiveness.
A seasoned merchandiser, Mr Lau finds responding to challenges one of the most rewarding parts of his job. "It is satisfying to see our products on the shelves of upmarket retailers and chain stores."
He notes that merchandisers should adopt a sensible approach when communicating with clients. "If you need to explain a delay in the production process, it is always best to focus on quality control rather than on a mechanical fault," he says.
Candidates interested in the field of merchandising need to be organised and detail-oriented in order to master catalogues containing thousands of items, Mr Lau stresses. Logical thinking, a good command of English and excellent presentation skills are essential to successfully communicate with retailers, designers, technicians, engineers and manufacturers.
Previous work experience in sales and marketing is an advantage, as many skills are transferable between the two fields, he adds.
"Merchandising is a viable option for fresh graduates, as the profession does not require a specialised degree or diploma," Mr Lau points out. Many merchandising companies welcome graduates without work experience, as long as they are open to learning new systems and embracing innovative ideas."