MANY OF today's management trainee programmes exist only to allow fresh graduates to work within the four walls of an office - or occasionally to travel to an overseas office. If that sounds boring to you, what about running a shop while at the same time getting in touch with beauty trends? The Body Shop - one of Hong Kong's best known skin-care retail chains - started its retail management trainee programme in 2003. Unlike many other programmes that focus on cultivating generic management skills, The Body Shop looks at how to run a store successfully in line with its corporate goals. 'Shop floor experience is essential [in the retail industry], even though in future you might be involved in other managerial roles in the office,' said Karin Ong, chief executive for Hong Kong and Macau. 'Retail is detail,' she said. 'From stock to petty cash, there are many details that we need to capture and analyse. Without such first-hand floor experience, one lacks the micro and macro views of how the business operates.' Trainees have great career opportunities, as the company has undergone a rapid expansion over the past two years. The Body Shop has 30 stores in Hong Kong and Macau, compared with 24 two years ago, and is in need of fresh talent to gear up for future growth, Ms Ong said. For 20 months, trainees are on the fast track, moving from being inexperienced junior salespeople to being shop managers with solid knowledge and skills in administering stock, sales and people. In the first three months, trainees begin as junior salespeople and learn the basics, such as selling techniques and product knowledge. They then graduate to senior sales positions for five months. At this stage, their responsibilities increase to include helping set sales targets and stock control. In the next phase of the programme, participants play the role of assistant shop manager, helping the head of the shop to supervise a sales personnel team. The final - and most exciting - chapter for those who complete the previous steps involves overseeing the operation of a Body Shop store in Hong Kong. Trainees will also spend three months in the office getting acquainted with the operations of various departments, such as finance, marketing, and learning and development. Conny Man has been in the training scheme since 2003, and has served in about eight stores. 'Shops differ in size and location, so I have learnt how these different settings are managed. And the most valuable of all is to learn from the various managers that I have met,' she said. The training scheme attracted 450 applications last year, after the firm held career talks at tertiary institutions. Competition is tough - only five applicants are selected after a round of tests and interviews. Applicants must take a written test and a numerical aptitude test, and attend a group interview, a panel interview and a games session. Ms Ong said the games session helped to identify those who were proactive and showed leadership skills. Applicants must have a range of other capabilities and qualities, including a good customer service attitude, people skills, analytical skills, logical reasoning, sharp market sense, responsiveness to change and numerical aptitude. While the selection process looks tough, the real test begins when candidates enrol in the programme. Florence Ho, who started her retail management training last August after graduating from Lingnan University, said it was difficult to sell without relevant experience. To stand in the shop for long hours was also challenging. 'These are not easy tasks, but since I love working in the retail sector, I have overcome them.' New responsibilities are added at each stage, presenting a whole new set of challenges. Ms Ho, who is now a senior salesperson, has already taken up duties similar to those of assistant shop manager. 'You can imagine that's a big difference from being a junior salesperson. I enjoy it because it helps me develop a stronger sense of responsibility,' she said. Both trainees have mentors as their source of support. 'My mentor has more than 10 years of experience in The Body Shop, and is a patient person who shares valuable insights on shop management skills,' Ms Ho said. Ms Man said her mentors had been helpful at different stages. 'My first mentor has become a friend with whom I can share my feelings when under pressure,' she said. Requirements A degree A proactive approach Good customer service attitude People skills Analytical skills Responsiveness to change Numerical aptitude what's in store? The retail-focused training aims to bring first-hand shop floor experience and a macro view of how stores operate. Trainees work at various outlets throughout Hong Kong and learn how different stores are run. Moving from one stage to the next, the company gradually adds duties to help trainees develop a growing sense of responsibility. Participants are assigned a mentor at various stages so they can share their career and/or personal concerns.