Satisfying a daily flow of more than 100,000 airline passengers, operating more than 43 stores under 18 different licenses and managing almost 700 employees in a cut-throat market in an international hub is no easy feat. For Alessandra Piovesana, North Asia's regional managing director for Nuance-Watson, Hong Kong International Airport's largest duty-free retailer, nurturing promising leaders through a management training programme and arming them with a "can do" spirit is all it takes to stay ahead of the game.
"Our programme is to grow people - to nurture them as part of our succession planning and global growth strategy. It is also part of our social mission - nurturing the young and giving them the opportunity to gain valuable experience in this industry," Piovesana says.
The company offers both store and office management training programmes to which all candidates are exposed to every aspect of operation. After a rigorous selection process involving language skills assessment, written tests, role plays, group discussions and case studies, selected candidates undergo one year of intensive exposure to different operations of the travel retail industry, starting at the basic level of understanding the ambience of the store, product categories and passenger needs.
"It is vital that they all learn how to professionally handle point-of-sale [POS], which for us is not simply a transaction. Our POS is complete with software that assists us to `read' our customers: Who are they? Where are they from? Which air carrier are they taking? What have they been buying? This allows us to provide speedier service, manage the store, product range and brands more efficiently. Hence, we are able to address the desires of the customers in a much more sophisticated manner."
In between on-location training, staff also attend classroom training with service workshops, hone their communication and management skills, and learn about the complex security restrictions and regulations within the airport. "It is like a matrix ... a very detailed training programme where they would go through the process of understanding the complexity of running a travel retail industry. It is complex because, first, the volume of passengers going through our airport is huge and they are all travelling customers who are highly mobile. Second, we deal with hundreds of different nationalities who are shopping in a specific mind set - their expectations are always high. Third, we handle different currencies. Employees are trained on how to legislate and manage currencies particularly at times of exchange rate fluctuations," she says.
The organisation works with local universities and, every year, recruits graduates who have the drive and passion to build their career in a world-class travel retailer. Careful staff selection is important, Piovesana says, adding that they screen about 200 candidates annually, of which only about 10 to 20 promising leaders are chosen.
She stresses that potential employees must have a professional attitude, integrity, a level of sincerity, be attentive, highly adaptable and fearless.
"They also must have a positive and can-do approach, always be prepared and organised," adds Christine Hui, an office management trainee who, in the past two years, worked also as an intern in the company. "The most important thing is to take the initiative because this programme is a two-way process, benefiting you and the organisation. Have the drive to learn as much as possible."
After getting her bachelor's degree in marketing, Hui chose to apply what she's learned, expand her knowledge and build her career path in travel retail marketing.
"I'm enjoying the flexibility and the variety of exposure this programme offers. It is multifaceted, fast-paced and exciting - one minute you'll be working on a promotion and the next, you'll be gathering data and trying to understand customers better," Hui says.