China, a country of 1.3 billion, is gobbling up luxury products. As more brands enter the rapidly growing Chinese market and expand to second- and third-tier cities, the need for trained, informed retail staff has skyrocketed.
“Excellent service is a relatively new concept in China, and most people are not accustomed to experiencing great service. The lack of respect and tradition for service quality makes it difficult for most retail staff to really recognize and provide luxury class service,” said Renee Hartmann, co-founder of China Luxury Advisors.
Another factor affecting the luxury brands’ abilities to maintain staff is the habit Chinese retail employees have to “tiao cao” or “jump jobs” in the hope of earning more money and better positions. According to Hartmann, this has led to a veritable poaching war among brands.
Realizing the limitations of the current pool of Chinese retail employees, some smart brands have begun to recruit and train new prospects from the ground up. Last November, Richemont, who owns Cartier, Chloé, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Mont Blanc and Dunhill, opened its first luxury retail academy in Shanghai. Located on Huai Hai Road, one of the city’s premier shopping streets, a very select group of students come to immerse themselves in the luxury retail experience. The second class, which consisted of 33 people between the ages of 22 and 28 selected from a pool of 2700, recently graduated and is ready to infiltrate the luxury retail market.
Daiting Shen graduated in Richemont’s first class, is now 24 years old and serves as a sales associate at a Cartier boutique in Shanghai. “The program provided me with lots of professional knowledge and skills. Before this, I was an outsider; my knowledge of luxury business was acquired from the media,” Shen said. “But after learning from the program and starting to work, I came to know what it really takes to be in the business.”
Richemont’s nine-week course includes classroom time and boutique training. Topics covered include “The World of Luxury”, “Watches”, “Etiquette and Grooming” and “The Importance of Service.”
“We set up the first retail academy in China mainly because the China market is very big in terms of share and scale to the group and the growth is very rapid. Many maisons under Richemont Group are facing a shortage of sales talents, thus our group decided to recruit sales talents on a large scale to meet the market’s requirement,” said Alain Li, chief executive of Richemont Group Asia Pacific.
Richemont hopes ultimately to graduate as many as 250 students per year. Dior is also planning to open a Chinese campus of its revered Dior Academy to train new employees. Graduates of luxury retail schools will not only be useful in the new Chinese markets, but also in boutiques abroad as the numbers of shopping tourists continue to increase.
photo credit: richemont