Career Path

Toy merchandising with a fun outlook

original text by Lin Sui Fong
translated by Nicole Wong

Frank Sye, category manager, toy department, Tesco International Sourcing
Photo: Edde Ngan

As children, many of us will have dreamed about what Santa Claus would bring and, even when fantasy has given way to reality, our delight in receiving desirable gifts never fades. That is something toy merchandisers understand and, in sourcing fascinating products from around the world, they can play the role of a real-life Santa Claus, bringing joy to children and adults of all ages.

Frank Sye, category manager for the toy department at Tesco International Sourcing, is one such person. Over the last eight years, he has worked his way up from toy merchandiser to his current position and seen the department grow from a one-man unit to a team of 15, responsible for purchasing toys for children up to 14 years old. The products range from infant toys to items for outdoor use items and model cars. Playing Santa Claus in real life involves a hectic work schedule, but for Mr Sye it is still a real pleasure to deal with exciting new toys in his day-to-day job.

We aim to build long-term relationships with suppliers

Various facets
As a part of the daily work routine, Mr Sye reviews market trends, communicates with the company's buyers, and looks for toys with good sales potential from Tesco's current suppliers. "We aim to build long-term relationships with suppliers, and would only look for new companies when our existing suppliers couldn't provide the right products," he explains.

In looking for suppliers, Mr Sye also has to consider whether they can adapt their production to meet the various needs of the company. As children around the world have different preferences, certain details have to be altered during production to adapt the same basic toy for different markets. "Take Barbie dolls as an example," Mr Sye explains. "If you pay close attention, you will see the facial features bear subtle resemblances to their target clients' in different continents and, for example, that there are dark-haired Barbie dolls for Asia."

After finding the right suppliers, Mr Sye is responsible for everything from quotations and sampling to packaging and product shots. He also oversees shipping and delivery after clients have placed their orders.

Continuous improvement
While some people may think there are few learning opportunities for junior staff in a large organisation, Mr Sye considers himself very lucky to have joined a multinational company like Tesco, whose sourcing offices span 11 markets, including Shanghai, India, the Czech Republic and England. Employees can apply for transfers to different departments or offices, where they receive all-round training. "There wouldn't be such extensive training and development opportunities for staff in smaller or medium-sized companies," he says.

As category manager, Mr Sye makes about two visits a year to overseas markets, and four to five visits a month to the mainland to inspect factories and production. In view of the tightening regulations for environmental protection and product safety in important markets such as Europe and Japan, Mr Sye spends some of his spare time on further studies in commerce and supply chain management. This is necessary to meet the ever changing requirements of his job. "Besides studying, if we have other enquiries, we can also consult the companies which handle testing and quality control, since they are familiar with the product standards and regulations in other countries," he points out.

Seeking balance
With so much work and study, it has not always been easy for Mr Sye to find time for family and friends. "In the early days, I hardly had the time to get married," he smiles. "I had to rush back to Hong Kong from Shanghai to go to the registry office, but I was delighted that so many of my colleagues made it to the wedding ceremony."

With plans to expand its business, Tesco has been recruiting a number of high-calibre executives, which will ease Mr Sye's workload and allow him to have a more regular lifestyle. "I do try to balance my time between work and leisure," he says. "I devote all my energy to work from Monday to Friday, and have quality time with family and friends at the weekends."


Taken from Career Times 03 March 2006, p. B16
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