YOU MIGHT THINK that Swire Resources would be increasing its number of sporting goods and casual wear retail outlets as a direct result of the revival in consumer confidence. In fact, the company has maintained a steady double-digit annual growth for the past five years, and has tripled in size since 2000. Even during 2003-2004, when Sars hit local consumer businesses hard, Swire opened 27 new outlets. This year, with the economy continuing to pick up, nine new stores have been opened and four more are planned. 'Our products are in tune with the trend which sees people in Hong Kong striving for a healthier, more balanced lifestyle that includes more exercise and outdoor activities,' said Laiman Tam, managing director of Swire Resources. 'A parallel lifestyle trend benefiting us is the growth of the casual wear and sportswear sectors. They are far outstripping the business attire market, as more people are dressing casually in the workplace.' Most Hongkongers are familiar with the Marathon Sports stores and the Catalog shops selling sporty fashions, but many do not know that Swire Resources also operates six GigaSports outlets offering products for athletes. 'Events such as the recent visit of Manchester United to Hong Kong, next year's World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics all add excitement to the markets that we are targeting through these outlets,' Ms Tam said. The company also sees China as an increasingly important factor in their strategy for expansion and has 50 mainland stores, mostly in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Overall, retail revenue accounts for about half of total business, with wholesale activities and the distribution of major overseas brands making up the rest. These include names such as Puma, Rockport, Speedo, Reebok and Columbia and, in many cases, Swire Resources acts as exclusive agent in the local market. 'High-speed growth has created the need for entry-level employees within the retail outlet operations, and managerial staff are required for the retail, brand wholesale and retail distribution side,' Ms Tam said. 'There are also opportunities in our China operations.' Candidates without previous experience who are interested in retail positions require at least a secondary-level education and should be outgoing, enthusiastic and energetic. It is no coincidence that these personal attributes are viewed as important for success in any sports team. 'Applicants should also either participate in sports or like them very much, while for the casual wear outlets, they should be in tune with the latest trends in casual fashion,' Ms Tam said. As management executives, the company wants high-achieving individuals with a tertiary-level education and experience at a supervisory level within the lifestyle sector. They should also have an entrepreneurial bent and be able to think 'out of the box'. Depending on the position applied for, relevant prior experience could be with another retail chain, with an advertising or public relations agency, or in an organisation that specialises in brand marketing. 'Retail is detail, and the most important ingredient is people. Therefore, we invest in recruitment, training and forming an efficient team,' Ms Tam said. As part of a long-established group, Swire Resources values both tradition and progress, and this is seen in the emphasis placed on employee education and their four-tier retail training academy. The first part lasts between 12 and 18 months, includes orientation and skills training, and concludes with a series of tests. The second stage is of similar length and involves supervisory training, staff management, motivation and practical skills. Employees who have impressed move onwards and upwards to the advanced level, which is more management-oriented and prepares people to take on more wide-ranging responsibilities. 'Training for the retail operations is more structured,' Ms Tam said. 'The emphasis is on developing fundamental skills and management capabilities and it involves a lot of mentoring. We also offer continuous enhancement and development training as a way of encouraging staff to acquire new skills and arrange language training in English and Mandarin.' Training is an important contributing factor for success in sports and for suppliers of sportswear, such as Swire Resources, as well. Retail in detail Sustained business development in the retail and distribution sectors is creating new career opportunities at Swire Resources. There are openings with well-known retail chains in brand wholesale and in retail distribution activities. Candidates are sought for management-level positions, as well as for more operational posts. Expansion is taking place in Hong Kong and mainland cities. Applicants are expected to be enthusiastic, energetic and keen on sports or fashion. Those who demonstrate entrepreneurial flair and an ability to think creatively will have an advantage. Swire Resources places an emphasis on employee education and offers a four-tier training programme and continuous skills enhancement.