Career Times article : Language skills help merchandisers reach the top

24 Nov 2006

Hong Kong remains a leading hub for global trade, a fact confirmed by statistics for 2005 which showed that total trade value had grown to US$ 6,000 billion, an increase of 10 per cent over the previous year. The apparel industry plays a big part in this and has benefited over the years from being able to make full use of mainland China’s labour intensive production facilities, while providing an effective bridge to an enormous range of overseas buyers.

To do this, however, the sector needs garment merchandisers who possess practical experience and diverse professional skills. These include in-depth product knowledge, cultural awareness, an international perspective and language proficiency. Also important is the ability to recognise and respond to changing fashion trends and new market requirements.

At present, experienced merchandisers are in great demand and the high number of vacancies looks set to continue well into next year.

“The supply of talent cannot meet demand,” says Edmond So, general manager of Besteam Personnel Consultancy Limited. “Some large companies have therefore been taking on more graduates as management trainees as part of their longer-term business development plans.”

Mr So adds that professional qualifications have become increasingly important, especially if doing business with multinationals. Also, proficiency in English is not just a competitive edge, but a prerequisite, while a working knowledge of other European languages and Japanese can always be put to good use in the trading environment.

These days, fluent Putonghua is a must for Hong Kong merchandisers. If the role involves finding new factories in more cost-effective mainland locations, knowledge of Shanghainese and other Chinese dialects can also turn out to be a major advantage. Such skills may even provide a significant head start for people given responsibility for developing contacts and sales in China’s fast expanding domestic market.

As opportunities for global business continue to increase, garment merchandisers should remain fully aware of trends, changes and cycles, as well as any technological advances which are relevant to the field. They should also be on the lookout for chances to visit different parts of mainland and to travel overseas. This helps to broaden horizons, gain inspiration and understand different sides of the industry.

It is also a great way of understanding different cultures and realising how customs, habits and traditions impact on customer expectations and actual sales. “Cultural awareness helps in devising or modifying marketing strategies and in maximising business growth,” Mr So says.

Qualities of top merchandisers:

  • Language proficiency a competitive edge
  • Interest in continuous professional development
  • Ability to see issues from different perspectives
  • Awareness of the growing importance in the mainland’s domestic market
  • Willingness to travel and keep broadening one’s horizons