Hong Kong's position as a premier sourcing hub for manufacturers, as well as its proximity to China, the largest manufacturing base in the world, has created golden opportunities for people seeking a career in merchandising.
Edmond So, general manager, Besteam Personnel Consultancy Limited, remarks that Hong Kong is an ideal platform for sourcing products such as garments, toys, household products and gifts. "This has encouraged multinational companies to use Hong Kong as a base to expand their regional business and build their supplier network," he says. According to a government survey, Hong Kong currently has 3,890 regional headquarters and regional offices set up by overseas parent companies. This figure represents a 25 per cent increase over five years. "Hong Kong is still an important gateway to the mainland despite China's entry into the WTO," Mr So remarks.
As merchandise export and re-export continue to surge, industry players need more merchandising professionals to drive their business further. Mr So points out that among the industries offering job openings for merchandisers, competition for talent in the apparel industry is the keenest. "The apparel industry is a major GDP contributor in Hong Kong's manufacturing sector as well as a key player in the global supply chain. In the past few years, US and European markets have experienced considerable economic growth, so orders for clothing have increased. This in turn has created tremendous opportunities for garment merchandisers," Mr So reveals.
According to Mr So, garment merchandisers with five to 15 years of experience are the most sought-after. "Desirable candidates are usually already holding a managerial position. With their valuable savoir faire, experienced garment merchandisers not only add value to the production process, but also facilitate knowledge transfer, which enhances overall staff competency within a company," Mr So remarks.
He explains that garment merchandising requires more technical skills than many other sectors. "Numerous parts and procedures are involved in the production of each specific part of a garment. Merchandising is about producing an item from the point of origin through to the point of consumption, so it is a complicated and challenging process," he notes.
Often, garment merchandisers work alongside designers and manufacturers to produce apparel items. Conversely, on occasion, they may only need to source the optimal materials and manufacturers required to produce designs already supplied by clients. In every case, merchandisers must demonstrate knowledge about textiles, fabrics and accessories, for example, how different materials look and work together. Familiarity with the capabilities of individual manufacturers is essential as well as ensuring the required quality and quantity of an item is delivered within the expected time frame," Mr So explains.
A career in garment merchandising is therefore both challenging and rewarding. Exposure to the entire business process of the apparel industry instills a sense of fashion alongside business expertise. "Since the application of entrepreneurial skills is an integral component of successful merchandising, some merchandisers move on to establish their own firms after accumulating years of industry experience," Mr So adds.
Garment merchandisers also have many opportunities to unleash their own unique creativity, which also leads to an enhanced feeling of professional satisfaction. "There are many possible solutions to reach a specific goal. However, one is usually superior to the others in any given situation. Every merchandiser must therefore be creative and flexible in devising strategies," advises Mr So.
Salary increments in garment merchandising currently beat the market benchmark due to talent shortages and stringent requirements for skill sets. While the buying offices of multinational fashion houses offer more attractive remuneration packages, they set higher requirements for candidates. "Academically, a tertiary education is paramount to success in these buying houses," Mr So explains.
A promising career path leading to an executive position is offered to recruits interested in entering the merchandising field. A novice with a Form Five education may enter the field as a merchandising clerk while graduates with relevant tertiary training may directly join as assistant merchandisers. The most desirable career path ultimately leads to the position of merchandising director, with the associated remuneration linked to such high office.
Mr So adds that garment merchandisers also need outstanding language skills to excel. "Many companies have moved their design teams to Hong Kong and a merchandiser needs to interact continuously with the designer. This requires strong communication skills and a clear grasp of fashion trends. In short, English and Putonghua are a must," he stresses.