Things are certainly looking good for Hong Kong's retail sector. The economic recovery has led to salary adjustments and bonus payments, which have put more money in people's pockets and stimulated a rush to the stores. And, with the individual travel scheme attracting ever more high-spending visitors from the mainland, all the signs point towards a surge in sales and a record-breaking year for local retailers.
In parallel with this, the demand for frontline salespeople and executive talent within the industry is also increasing. In the fashion retail sector, especially, the larger companies have responded to this need by stepping up recruitment efforts and offering higher salaries for more experienced professionals. Some have also revised starting salaries for graduates to ensure they remain competitive and attract the best candidates. For example, leading fashion chain G2000 (Apparel) Limited is considering an approximate increase of HK$2,000 a month for their graduate management trainees to a level of HK$11,000 to HK$14,000. For young designers they are now offering in the range of HK$9,000 to HK$10,000.
"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys," says human resources director Daniel Fung. "To maintain quality, we must pay employees well in order to keep them." As for experienced professionals, he concedes: "Some are playing musical chairs by moving to other firms after being offered better pay and prospects."
Mr Fung says that to survive in a competitive market, the company must constantly introduce new designs, enabling its retail stores to display new stock every five to six weeks. Therefore, a large team of designers is needed to keep pace with change and come up with fresh ideas. In response to market demand, G2000 is already planning to expand its chain from the current 50 stores to 60 by the end of the year. This will entail hiring 40 to 50 additional staff, mostly for retail and design positions.
University graduates interested in pursuing a career in the field can apply to join the company's 18-month management trainee programme. If accepted, they will get a broad range of experience, including having to work as a sales assistant and shop manager in order to gain operational expertise. On completing the training period, they can expect to be appointed as a district sales supervisor. Preferred candidates are degree holders in international marketing, China-related business or management studies. They should also have excellent communication skills and be real team players.
"We have joint ventures and franchises with business partners in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Macau, the Middle East and Cyprus, so candidates with international marketing knowledge are a definite asset," says Mr Fung. "Outstanding executives can subsequently be promoted to product director and will have the opportunity to attend fashion shows around the world to see the latest trends. They will coordinate with our designers, buyers and merchandisers to work on all kinds of new products." He adds that one of the aims of the management trainee programme is to get staff ready to apply their knowledge of retail operations in Hong Kong to the company's mainland business, which now extends to cities in northern China.
Fashion sales hinge on style and quality, so designers always play a key role in the production process. The company's 40-strong design team works separately on the three main brands - 2000, U2 and UWoman. Graduates are hired directly from the local tertiary-level institutes offering diploma or degree courses in design, such as the First Institute of Art and Design, Caritas Bianchi College of Careers and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. New joiners begin as design assistants and can be promoted to senior and then chief designers, with monthly salaries for top staff in the range of HK$30,000 to HK$40,000 depending on experience.
Form Five school leavers who are keen to break into the retail business usually have to work their way up from the position of sales assistant. Recruits for such openings undergo an initial three days of classroom training to learn about products, materials, sales techniques and the corporate mission. After that, there will be one month's on-the-job training with individual mentoring. They also learn about the need to balance customer service with achieving sales targets. Around two months after joining, they have a counselling session to assess progress and to give the opportunity to discuss any problems.
"The first three months are the toughest for new salespeople," Mr Fung stresses. "It is not easy to stand for long hours and keep smiling for customers. Occasionally, it is also necessary to work until 2am changing stock and still report as usual at 10am the next day. If people are sure they can do this, then they are ready to start a career here."
The starting salary for frontline sales is around HK$9,000 inclusive of commission and allowance. With satisfactory performance and further experience, this can climb to HK$13,800 for someone who reaches the level of store manager. For all positions, there are allowances and commission based on sales revenue. It generally takes at least seven to 10 years to move from entry level up to the position of district sales supervisor or retail sales manager.
Along the way, all employees must learn about the company's main corporate values of always searching for and being ready to accept new ideas for better products. They also have to embrace challenges with a positive attitude and exceed customer expectations. "Understandably, a passion for the fashion retail business is essential," Mr Fung concludes.
- Retailers see the need to pay increased salaries in a
- Graduate trainees gain in-store experience as part of
a structured development programme
- Designers work on different brands and must keep pace
with changes in fashion
- Retail staff receive allowances and commission based on