There has seldom been a better time for merchandisers as demand for their services continues to outstrip supply. The job market has improved considerably with the quota system for garments and footwear due to be eliminated next year.
"We are expecting 15 per cent to 20 per cent growth this year compared with 2003," points out Christine Pace, sales & marketing director of Adecco Personnel.
"With the lifting of the quota system following the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), whereas China and India accounted for 15 per cent of the global merchandising market, this is expected to grow to 40 to 50 per cent for the non-garment sector while the garment sector will grow to 30 to 40 per cent of global share," says Joan Chung, chief operating officer from Levin Human Resources Development.
"For senior merchandisers, the growth in job vacancies is roughly 50 per cent from 2003," says Patricia Yip, senior consultant from Figure Heads Consultants. However, travelling can take up as much as 60 per cent of a senior merchandiser's time. Therefore, some of them have already relocated their families to the mainland. Not only do they travel to established locations like Beijing and Shanghai, but the pioneers have already started arriving in places like Chongqing and Tianjin for more sophisticated handicraft products.
"Merchandisers are truly the pioneers who are witnessing the development of every part of China through their extensive travel," stresses Ms Chung. To keep themselves up-to-date, some of them have found time to complete degree or masters degree courses to maintain their competitiveness.
Growth of 15 to 20 per cent is expected this year
The group that tends to job switch most are those who possess five to six years of experience.
"A pay increase of up to 30 per cent is possible," says Ms Pace. For some positions, knowing a third language, such as French, will mean a salary difference of as much as $10000 to $15000 per month. Experienced merchandisers understand the whole production process from top to bottom and can therefore develop further into product development or general managerial positions according to their area of expertise and preferences.
Hard work, intensive travel, good negotiation skills, good language skills and good social skills are the major prerequisites for a promising career.
There are also opportunities for newcomers, says Fanny Cheung, associate consultant at Time Search. "It is all about how you impress the interviewer within a short interview, say 15 minutes."
Employers usually test candidates on their English and Mandarin speaking abilities, their typing speed and presentation skills.
"Candidates should conduct a company search before the interview and show as much industry knowledge as possible," stresses Ms Cheung.
"A first degree is generally the minimum requirement for a merchandiser, especially when there are abundant courses organised for the textile and garment industry," says Ms Chung. "That said, there are still a lot of people who start their career with secondary level education. The important thing is to have an outgoing personality and be willing to learn and not be afraid of working hard."
Fresh graduates should realise what is involved before they apply for jobs and should be fully devoted to their career.
Buying offices and manufacturers tend to hire degree holders and train them for three to six months with a starting monthly salary of $7000 to $8000. In both cases, they will focus on a candidate's capacity for hard work and whether he is able to cope with intensive travel, often two or three times a week to the mainland.
"Candidates starting their career from a small firm may pick up more hands-on skills and enjoy wider exposure to different tasks than those in a large firm," points out Ms Pace.
The first job change may only boost a candidate's salary by between $500 and $2000, however changing jobs within two or three years is still common.
"As knowledge and experience grow, merchandisers develop good negotiation skills which are the most valuable asset of all," says Ms Chung. "Price negotiation is part of everyday life for a merchandiser and good skills in this field will have a direct effect on the candidate's worth in the market. Dealing with people in a different cultural setting is another crucial factor since one is sourcing from a global market," she adds.
To help boost performance, some companies have set up bonus schemes based on volumes of orders made for the whole year in order to ensure results are delivered.
"Competition from the mainland is still at a starting point. It usually takes three to five years to train a mainland employee to become a senior merchandisers. A mainland merchandiser's monthly salary is around RMB4000 to 5000," says Ms Yip.
Because of cultural differences, mainland employees need to be well-equipped with high ethical standards and more exposure to market trends if they are to gain their employers' trust.
Hong Kong merchandisers are still competitive in the global merchandising business because they are able to exert a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm, she says.
When preparing for an interview
- Study information about the company
- Be prepared to introduce yourself in both English and
- Be confident and proactive
- Talk about your knowledge of the industry