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Talent Shortage in China's Luxury Brand Sales

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Many makers of luxury brands that aggressively expanded in China in recent years are finding themselves caught up in a shortage of skilled management.

"Although there is a comparatively sound management talent supply channel for luxury brands in Beijing and Shanghai, the talent shortage in second- and third-tier cities is very serious," said Zhao Wei, an executive recruitment consultant with Antal International.

In Beijing and Shanghai, the talent supply has matured because they are the key cities where luxury brands started to open stores in China.

In second- and third-tier cities such as Tianjin, Shenyang and Hangzhou, store managers selling luxury brands come from a variety of fields, including the hospitality and cosmetics sectors. It's very hard to find the right people for this position, Zhao said.

Zhao said there is a preference for people with experience in the service industries, because the luxury industry is fundamentally a kind of service as well.

The biggest difference between management skills in the luxury brand and other industries, such as IT and property, mainly lies in the emphasis on applicants' appearances and understanding of the brands' history and culture, said Zhao.

Liu Fei, a public relations manager with Cartier, a French luxury jewelry and watch brand, said he frequently visits stores selling luxury brands to see what products are on sale and to learn the latest trends in the industry, but he has no intention of buying anything.

"A strong fashion sense and passion for the industry is critical for your career, because this plays an important role in your routine work," Liu said.

"Most high school and vocational school graduates entered the industry as employees of the luxury brands several years ago and now the best have become the backbone of the management," Zhao said. "They've got enough experience and the only challenge for them is to fuel themselves with professional management knowledge and to improve language skills."

A two-year course called Master of International Brand Management-Luxury was launched this year to satisfy the growing demands of this group, whose members are desperate for self-fulfillment. It is a joint project run by Renmin University of China and Euromed Management with tuition fees of 180,000 yuan (US$27,037).

"For the first phase, there were about 100 applicants for the program and we enrolled just 23 people. I think there will be more applicants in coming years as the size of China's middle class grows," said Chen Yongjun, executive vice-president of the International College at Renmin University of China.

"Most of these applicants come from service industries, including airline stewardesses and executives from enterprises, and they are all very interested in the luxury industry and believe it has quite a lot of potential in China," Chen added.

Chinese consumers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding a better service experience.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they hoped for better customer relations management and 43 percent wished for an overall enhanced shopping experience, according to a China luxury market study this year by Bain & Co, a leading global business and strategy consulting firm.

This requires management levels to be more professional and versatile.

"Professional management training programs will benefit many experienced luxury brand employees in terms of giving them the opportunity of promotion and entering management levels," Zhao said.

(China Daily December 20, 2010)

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