Jewellery has played a major role in most cultures through the ages. Up until some decades ago, many people kept gold accessories as valuable assets. However, with rising living standards, jewellery has become an expression of various lifestyles, trends and fashions.
Founded in 1929, Chow Tai Fook has witnessed the development of the Hong Kong jewellery industry first-hand. The company, which became a pioneer for jewellery chain store operations, started as a traditional goldsmith renowned for its outstanding craftsmanship and fashionable designs. In 1956, the jeweller set the Hong Kong benchmark for the highest standard of gold purity, a fineness of 999.9.
Today, Chow Tai Fook has more than 750 outlets in Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau, Taiwan and Malaysia, with sales volumes amounting to US$10 billion annually.
"Our scope of business is much more than just operating jewellery stores. We have been running our own diamond jewellery manufacturing company for nearly 50 years and are partner of the biggest rough diamond supplier in the world," says Raymond Leung, manager, executive office, Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Co Ltd.
Operating as a diamond distributor under the well-known Diamond Trading Company, Chow Tai Fook has refining and polishing lines in South Africa and China, complementing its retail and wholesale jewellery operations with expertise in sourcing, design and manufacturing.
The company's many accessory catalogues cater for all age groups and styles, with jewellery items incorporating platinum, gold, diamonds, pearls, jade, rubies, sapphires and other precious materials and stones.
As part of its commitment to quality service, Chow Tai Fook has adopted a "five steps for Chow Tai Fook service standard". This initiative includes directives for welcoming clients, selling, bidding clients farewell, telephone inquiries and after-sales procedures, along with a complete set of guidelines for service providers and a standardised quality assurance system for management.
"At Chow Tai Fook, quality is never compromised. We ensure that we are always upgrading our hardware and software in order to offer all our clients the very best products and services," Mr Leung stresses.
To further enhance customer experience, the company not only participates in mystery shopper programmes carried out by the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, but has also hired a professional consultant company to research and design a comprehensive service plan for its long-term development.
In order to consolidate its position as the top Chinese jewellery brand and to reach more customers, Chow Tai Fook has devised a strategic expansion plan that aims to broaden its sales network to 1,000 locations by 2010.
In the past couple of years, Chow Tai Fook's workforce has grown to more than 17,000 employees including 10,000 frontline staff. To keep up with the company's robust growth, Chow Tai Fook will continue to recruit more staff, Mr Leung says. "We are looking for talented salespeople, designers and gemmologists to aid our diversified business development plan," he adds.
All Chow Tai Fook employees, regardless of their specific field, receive specialised training to enhance their skills at various stages of their careers and there are plenty of opportunities for promotion.
In accordance with the company's promote-from-within policy, a junior salesperson can swiftly move up to become a shop manager, and then be promoted to the position of district manager and subsequently regional manager. The policy has seen many junior employees rise to senior executive level over the years.
"In the past, goldsmiths followed an old-fashioned apprentice structure that did not facilitate fast learning. These days, we use a range of efficient materials and methods, including operation manuals and a mentoring system to groom our staff," Mr Leung points out.
Chow Tai Fook has also installed a management trainee scheme for university graduates, which aims to attract candidates with management skills, a service-orientated mindset and proficiency in languages. This scheme is one of the people management strategies tying in with the company's international development plan, Mr Leung remarks.
With great confidence in the future of the jewellery business, Chow Tai Fook believes that the industry will grow further as wealth is being created in emerging economies such as Russia, India and the Middle East. The company therefore looks forward to combining its solid experience with a contemporary management approach to foster a new generation of talent for the industry.
"Although the times are changing, the core values necessary for success in the business remain unchanged," Mr Leung concludes. "People must have a deep passion for the industry, which drives them to learn and work hard, and be diligent and proactive."