Hong Kong needs to restore people’s confidence, instil belief ‘tomorrow will be better’, says Sincere chairman
Philip Ma King-huen, chairman of the 116-year-old Sincere Company, Hong Kong’s first Chinese-owned department store, offers up his views on five key questions on the future of the city in an interview with the South China Morning Post
Do you think Hong Kong is still an ideal place to do business?
Yes. Hong Kong has a well established legal framework, fast information flow and a highly developed transportation network. The negative side is high rents, and the Hong Kong currency being pegged to the US dollar, which makes everything expensive here for tourists.
How is your company coping with the economic downturn in Hong Kong and the mainland?
Fortunately, Sincere is not heavily reliant on tourists. We mainly target local middle to high income groups. We have seen that the operating environment is getting worse and we need to do something to boost our sales.
In the last quarter of last year, we launched a series of promotions to stimulate our customers to spend more. The efforts of our staff paid off. We saw our sales during the period from Christmas to the Lunar New Year record slight growth, while our gross margin also improved.
When there is a crisis, there is also opportunity. Customers are turning more selective in their shopping habits amid growing uncertainty over the economic outlook, and so lots of people who used to buy brand goods have started to shop at Sincere.
They see lots of our products are manufactured by the same factories that make some international brands. But because of the brand label, these products could sell for three or four times more than those without it.
There is also the growing popularity of “smart shopping” – where customers know what they are buying and do not blindly chase after branded products.
What do you think the government should do to help your business to do better?
The Hong Kong government’s move to waive government rates is good but we need to restore people’s confidence. We need to make people believe tomorrow will be better. Hong Kong has lots of good things that can do this, like the Rugby Sevens, which is an international event that draws lots of foreign tourists to Hong Kong and brings in business for us. Although hotels and restaurants benefited from the event, nothing was done to help boost the retail industry. It was a good opportunity to launch a big shopping extravaganza. It’s not something a single retailer or I myself can do. The government should take a leading role in launching such campaigns.
What is your advice to young people to achieve a successful career?
Life is never a level playing field. It is best to get the right education and invest in yourself. Try to get a mentor and listen and learn. Know your objective, and try many things in life. Make some mistakes as long as it they are not fatal ones. I think experience brings good things in the long run.
We have a two-year management trainee programme for fresh graduates. One third of their time will be working on the front line to learn how to face and meet the needs of customers. Another third will be spent in merchandising to study how we price and source products and the rest of the time will be spent in the marketing department. After the programme, all participants will know the “buy” side, the “sell” side and how to promote goods.
In addition, we have been working with teamed up with Hong Kong Polytechnic University since 2000 to offer a retail innovation scholarship to bring in new ideas to the industry.
Two years ago, we started a competition called Fashion Seoul and received an overwhelming response. We received 200 applications from students in the first year. After the first round of presentations, we selected three teams from the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at Polytechnic University who went to Seoul to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in fashion merchandising and form sales strategies. They brought back products they had bought in Seoul to sell at pop-up sites inside Sincere stores.
If you would give one sentence on how Hong Kong can move forward, what will that be?
We all should always hope that tomorrow will be better.