Hutchison Whampoa

Business of buying is a challenging career

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2007, 12:00am

Next time you set foot in a store brimming with festive goodies and sparkling seasonal gifts, spare a thought for the buyers scouring the planet for unique, beautiful items to whet shoppers' picky appetites.

According to Simon Mak, director of merchandising at Watsons Your Personal Store, his company boasts an international buying division that is dedicated to sourcing new products. 'We have a group of special buyers going around China, while some go around the world mainly for general merchandising [for items] such as hairbrushes or other [goods],' Mr Mak said.

Watsons' buyers also attend overseas fairs, such as the ISM confectionery fair held annually in Cologne, Germany, and local fairs dedicated to items such as confectionery or health products. 'We also go through local suppliers, such as Hallmark Cards, with whom we have daily contact,' Mr Mak said.

The buying team itself is split into four main functions: sourcing products; arranging promotions on a monthly basis; maintaining an optimal stock level; and, last but not least, negotiating terms.

Within the company, a typical career path sees graduates joining the business as clerical support staff. Their next role is assistant buyer or trainee buyer, followed by buyer, before moving to the role of merchandising manager in charge of one division out of the five at Watsons.

'You are then promoted to merchandising director in charge of one buying team in the country,' Mr Mak said. Merchandising business prospects in Hong Kong are rosy. 'It's good, especially in Hong Kong where the retail business is so well developed,' Mr Mak said.

'There are lots of opportunities within our group as we have 1,000 stores in Asia. The right candidate can be transferred to new countries. For example, we have colleagues from Hong Kong who have just been transferred to [the mainland], but there are also jobs in Thailand, the Philippines or South Korea.'

Those contemplating a move into this career should not be afraid to stick their necks out. However, different teams have different requirements, and buyers in the field of personal care must have good exposure in that area.

'You also need to have the right attitude, a can-do mentality and a good analytical mind,' Mr Mak said.

Once in the business, the biggest challenge for those buyers given responsibility for Christmas fare is to be able to find the right product at the right time and to find something that's not only novel but also unique. 'Your time frame is only one month, so anything green and red is pointless after December 25.' This means stock control and ordering the right quantity and types of items is essential.

'This year we've included quite a few lines that are more expensive than before - it's a calculated risk, but we have to try it.'