WILSON CHEUK spends his days on the phone, juggling handsets. 'I have three direct lines on my desk and sometimes I still can't take all the calls,' he said. Mr Cheuk is merchandising manager for Chung Yuen Electrical and he has been buying and retailing electronic goods for more than 20 years. His role involves frequent communication with suppliers and frontline salespeople in the stores, so that he can track the market situation and determine what to buy. On a normal working day, he negotiates with distributors and agents about product prices and places purchase orders to maintain the required stock levels. He will also look for any opportunity to fix special deals with his contacts. 'As we purchase a large quantity of goods, we can negotiate for lower prices. A small percentage change in the offer price can mean a lot of money to us,' he said. Mr Cheuk said reliable information and good communication were the key to success. 'You need to know what is going on. I find that talking to distributors and agents is a good way of learning about the market and I can then advise my colleagues in the shops.' His other duties include promoting new products and handling local distribution from the warehouse to stores. 'When there is a hot item, I need to allocate the goods among different shops to ensure all have sufficient supply,' he said. He said merchandisers should be sensitive to market changes and know what the consumer needs. They should also have detailed product knowledge. 'Even if you don't know how to operate a product, you should at least be aware of its unique features,' he said. Although the company recruits mostly university graduates, Mr Cheuk said work experience was more important than academic achievements. 'Without practical experience, a merchandiser may buy the wrong products, and not many companies can tolerate that sort of mistake,' he said. 'When a product does not sell, we have to get rid of it in clearance sales. However, some products have a 'suggested retail price' set by the distributors and they may not allow us to cut the price. In that case, we have to think of other gimmicks such as offering free gifts.'