Looking for the right sales staff
Popular apparel manufacturer wants young, dynamic people to sell a very youthful brand
LOOK AT THE label on just about any kind of clothing, be it a pair of jeans or a cotton T-shirt, and it is very likely to carry the words 'Made in China'. The demand for clothes from the mainland is huge, and it keeps growing.
Manufactureres of clothes, and other goods, are setting up business in China to take advantage of the low production costs there. The trend is most apparent in the garment business.
However, the mainland's favourable operating environment also poses unique challenges to Hong Kong garment retailers. The local rents are exorbitant and the competition is becoming increasingly hard as new players enter the field.
In such an environment, the sales team plays a crucial role in building up a profitable garment retailing business.
Casual wear retailer U-Right International Holdings plans to expand from 28 stores to 50 stores in Hong Kong by the end of this year. This means the company will be recruiting on a large scale.
The expansion will call for more sales employees at every level, including sales assistants, supervisors and shop managers. The company has a workforce of more than 200 people. The majority of the sales team are frontline sales staff.
Selling is one of the hardest jobs in commerce. A good salesman takes a holistic approach to his or her job, endeavouring to understand what exactly the customer wants.
'Our sales staff must understand the psychology of the different customers we cater to, from mainland tourists to locals,' said Betty Chan, general manager of U-Right's Hong Kong operations.
Effective salespeople, she says, take a balanced and comprehensive approach to their job. They advise clients on what looks good on them and sell appropriate goods. This encourages customers to come back.
U-Right is looking for dynamic, pleasant and outgoing individuals who can adapt to any situation. They must also have at least one year of sales experience.
Candidates for senior positions should have managerial experience, such as the ability to allocate manpower and act as a bridge between the retail outlet and the back office.
U-Right's range of clothing targets 18- to 35-year-olds, and it is therefore important that the staff understand how young customers think.
About 80 per cent of the company's sales staff are women, but U-Right hopes to attract more men in its latest recruitment drive.
Retaining a young workforce is a big challenge for the company. Most of the retail staff are under 30 and tend to be mobile, exploring different industries before settling down. The result is a high turnover rate.
'Most of our salespeople are very young,' Ms Chan said, 'and they tend to leave for an office job and then switch back into retail later, especially if they are under 28 years.
'If we want to keep them, we must offer them plenty of training and promotion opportunities,' she said.
Every six months, U-Right's retail staff receive an assessment report based on their sales performance, sales techniques, interpersonal skills and management ability.
'There is no barrier to promotion within the company,' Ms Chan said. 'We will promote people as long as we think they are capable.'
An in-house examination is held to assess the employees' readiness to move up to the next level. All staff must take the exam for a decision to be made on their promotion prospects.
In the written examination, staff are asked to comment on various case studies and say how they would handle a specific situation or customer complaint.
Ms Chan said the concept of promotion was so strong among staff that a hard-working individual could rise through the ranks from sales assistant to area manager in as little as two-and-a-half years.
Such progression is made easier with an initial three-month training period that covers a variety of aspects, including product knowledge and brand image. Subject-specific coaching, including product promotion and client communication strategies, is offered on a continuing basis thereafter.
Stiff competition is also forcing companies to become innovative. For example, U-Right plans to launch a line of anti-mosquito clothing that is treated with special repellents.
Samuel Lui, the company's corporate communications director, said:
'It is by offering more innovative products that we are able to charge a premium, which consumers are happy to pay. Our clothing offers additional value.'
U-Right hiring front-line sales staff at all levels
Basic sales experience required
Necessary attributes: be happy, proactive and adaptable
No barriers to promotion
Continuous training opportunities available