Working for a company which has a current range of around 3,000 products and is adding new items all the time, Boris Wong believes he has finally found his niche. As product manager for the digital home appliances team at Samsung Electronics HK, he has found the kind of challenge he was always looking for and feels he is completely in harmony with the company's philosophy. That is to encourage staff to use their imagination, and Mr Wong has never been short of good ideas.
Unfortunately, in some of his early jobs, he didn't always get the chance to use them.
After graduating, Mr Wong joined an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to work in project management and oversaw production processes, quality control and on-time delivery. The only problem was that things generally ran smoothly, which meant there wasn't much room for him to take the initiative or be creative.
Therefore, Mr Wong decided to switch to marketing. He had plenty of suggestions for new campaigns and enhanced products and was more than happy to put them forward. They might all have worked, but since his employer had been forced to cut the promotion and development budgets in order to reduce costs, no one ever had the chance to find out.
However, as soon as Mr Wong got an offer to join the product management team of Samsung Electronics, he knew his career was taking a turn for the better. "The fascination of this job lies in the challenge of deciding whether or not it's worth investing in each new product that comes up for consideration," he explains. "The process can involve a lot of discussion with our head office and the sales force."
There are about 20 major home appliance brands on sale in Hong Kong, and the success of a new product often depends on being able to convey the concept to distributors and retailers in a nutshell. Obviously, it is also essential to be creative, as well as sufficiently aware of the market to observe what will actually sell.
"The fascination of this job lies in the challenge of deciding whether or not it's worth investing in each new product"
The product manager's role involves decisions about pricing, promotion and place of distribution. "We must also figure out what to buy from headquarters — if they can supply what we want," says Mr Wong. Besides this, he has to monitor distribution, manage the profit and loss account, and lead his own team to ensure they perform effectively.
Nowadays, new models of most types of home appliance are introduced every year or two. There is also a trend for them to incorporate multiple functions so, for example, an air-conditioner might also serve as a dehumidifier and air purifier. The sales volume of fridge-freezers has also seen a 30 per cent year-on-year growth, even though at one time they were thought to be too big for Hong Kong families.
"The average size of a Hong Kong household has shrunk to about 3.5 people and this has had a favourable impact on the market growth for home appliances," Mr Wong says.
He notes that young couples are a specific target market. "That's why you will find a pink fridge in our catalogue, why we held a seminar about fung-shui and home appliances earlier this year, and why we had a promotional booth at a wedding expo," he explains.
In order to develop strategies like this, the company expects new recruits to be inventive and arranges in-depth training and job rotations to give them wide exposure to the business. "A position in the product management team will also allow them to take part in many kinds of promotional activity, from sponsoring rugby games to special media events," Mr Wong says.
In principle, graduates from all disciplines stand an equal chance when applying for the usual entry-level positions of product engineer, product executive and marketing executive. "The duties of a product executive focus more on the distribution channels and contact with the retailers," Mr Wong notes. "Marketing executives are more involved with choosing the right media for each product launch."
Mr Wong advises candidates to read up on the home appliance market before any interview, since he has noticed some applicants have trouble answering even basic questions. He says that a good way to learn is by talking to the shop assistants in a store or anyone with experience of the business. It is important to know about the latest market trends and to have a good understanding of customer behaviour.