THE DYNAMIC expansion of the mainland's retail and luxury goods sector presents enormous opportunities to international players, and getting it right from the start is the key to fast and effective penetration. At the conference's China Hong Kong Business Forum, industry leaders will discuss the challenges and opportunities that retail and luxury goods companies are experiencing on the mainland. The forum panel's moderator Carrie Yu, partner and retail and consumer leader of China and Hong Kong at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: 'What we are seeing now is China at a turning point, and a unique time in the history of Chinese retailing.' She said the mainland market was witnessing a phenomenal rate of growth and speed of change. One of the speakers, Francis Gouten, regional chief executive, Richemont Asia-Pacific, said China was a market of great opportunities for the group, which had been expanding its operations there for more than a decade. At present, 14 of the group's luxury brands have their operations in the mainland, with more than 300 points of sale in various provinces and cities. Prestigious brands under Richemont include Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Dunhill and Montblanc. 'The initial focus was building presence in major cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. But now we are expanding into other parts of China. 'For example, Cartier opened a boutique shop in Chengdu two weeks ago,' he said. Mr Gouten, who will share knowledge and experience of developing business in the mainland's retailing market, said maintaining strategic ties with local partners was one of the keys to penetrating the market. 'It is important to have good partners there. You must have local people to deal with local people,' he said. 'We are in the luxury business, targeting 1 per cent of the population, so we have to maintain close and direct contacts with customers. Good staff who know the market well is another success factor.' The mainland's retailing market had experienced significant changes with liberalised rules and marked improvements in the quality of the distribution network. 'It is less complicated to enter the market now than five years ago. The market moves quickly with the growing spending power of mainland consumers. Compare the quality of retail shops in Shanghai today with eight years ago, it's a big change and improvement,' Mr Gouten said. 'Today, China is a miracle. Everybody in the world rushes to the market. But it is not going to work if you don't have the experience, the history of your brand and the quality of people, including partners and staff. You can't press the button and be successful in China. You need strong assets.'