Get a Whiff of the Action

Ever wondered what's the real deal behind those pretty ladies behind fragrance and cosmetic counters ? Jolin Phua, a team leader at Luxasia, tells us what it's like being at the frontline of the fragrance industry.

By Melody Tan

Some may think that the business of selling fragrances must be a bed of nice-smelling roses, but Jolin Phua will tell you that it is not always true.

“There’s a lot of responsibility, from sales to the operation of the counters and promoting the perfume brands. You have to be standing almost the whole day, and sometimes you have to work overtime. It is not a relaxing job, and it’s up to you to push yourself to succeed and meet your own goals,” she says.

Affable and attractive, the 31-year-old is dressed in a smart black suit, and is simply made-up with her hair let down.

Jolin has been working for Luxasia Group for the past 13 years, and has been a team leader in fragrance retail for the past five to six years.

Luxasia Group is a regional distributor of renowned fragrance and cosmetic brands in Asia, and one of the biggest in Singapore. Based in Singapore, its regional headquarters coordinates the group’s marketing and distribution activities, as well as its warehousing and support services.

The products that Luxasia distributes include fragrances by Calvin Klein, Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, Davidoff and Dolce & Gabbana, to name a few. It also distributes cosmetic products by Guerlain, IPSA, Prada and Lancaster.

Behind the scenes

Jolin reveals that the fragrance and cosmetics industry is extremely competitive, especially since new fragrances are constantly coming up to compete with the existing ones. Hence, work can get busy, and marketing is increasingly important in selling fragrances. The retailer has to know the unique characteristic of the perfume he or she is selling, for example special ingredients like tea extracts in the perfume, or unique bottling and packaging, and play it up.

However, she lets on that due to the fact that her company carries many of these famous designer brands, sales is often brisk. The turnover rate is very high as the various brands Luxasia carries frequently introduce new fragrances, which are in turn, quickly snapped up due to their popularity. In fact, there is very little leftover stock.

“In the past, we used to have to remember all the brands that the company carries. Now because we have so many brands, we are split into different divisions so we only have to pay special attention of the brands under our charge,” says Jolin.

An integral part of her job as a retail associate requires her to know the brands in her division well. Besides that, retail staff at the counters need to learn basic operation rules like tidying the counter to leave a good impression and ordering new stock. They also have to know the facts about the fragrances that they are retailing, such as awards won, when the perfume was launched, as well as the ingredients in the perfumes themselves. The staff also sell body products that accompany the fragrance, and must know how to recommend complementary products, as well as cater to the customers’ individual preferences. On top of that, they also learn basic massaging techniques in applying various creams and lotions on the customer.

Jolin says, “Learning all these requires hard work and takes time. It cannot be done in a day.”

Moving up the career ladder

Jolin’s career so far with Luxasia has progressed through various levels. She started out as a Fragrance Associate, and had to learn the ropes from scratch, familiarising herself with the brands of perfumes as well as their unique characteristics. After two years, she became a Senior Fragrance Associate, and her portfolio increased to having to train newcomers. As a Counter Associate, she has to take care of the operation and management of the counter and its staff, as well as solve any problems that come along. Being extremely familiar with the fragrance brands, she was also roped in as a Promotions Leader, whose main role is to do brand promotion at product launches and special events such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas. These festivals are usually the busiest for her as many people are rushing to make fragrance purchases for their loved ones.

Today, she is a Team Leader based in the Bvlgari and Ferragamo counters at Takashimaya Department Store. She oversees the operations of the counters within Takashimaya as well as in other departmental stores, and helps out during promotional events.

Jolin bashfully admits that her rise through the ranks is considered “quite fast”, however, hers is not a rare exception.

“Luxasia gives everyone a chance to grow and be promoted, so long as you work hard and prove yourself worthy.”

In fact, she was offered a higher position in the headquarters based in Singapore, but she chose to stay at the frontlines of retail because of her passion in sales. She confides, “I don’t like to stay in the office all day. Now my job requires me to move around quite a bit and serve others. I like that.”

Learning never stops

To improve herself, Jolin also signed up for many of the training courses offered by her company. These include in-house courses on supervisory skills, basic Japanese, retail selling techniques, customer service and handling difficult customers. She also took external courses in make-up artistry, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Critical Enabling Skills Training (CREST) by the Singapore Productivity and Standards Board. Luxasia organised these courses for the benefit of their staff and Jolin participated out of her own interest.

She found the courses interesting and useful, particularly the course on retail sales techniques, because she is able to apply the lessons to her work every day. She adds that learning Japanese is an asset to her work at Takashimaya, as many of the customers are Japanese tourists. “When you can speak a bit of their language, it makes selling much easier as you can understand and communicate with each other on a basic level.”

Jolin’s advice to people who want to enter the industry is to have perseverance as well as the willingness to learn. In fact, her worst nightmare is getting staff who are “nua”, which means unmotivated in Hokkien. Some staff even “run off” after working for only a short period, thus wasting prior training efforts.

When asked if one is required to be beautiful in order to work in the beauty industry, Jolin laughs.

“You don’t have to be gorgeous, but you have to be presentable and be able to do the job.”

“We once had a counter employee who was not so fashionably dressed and tied her hair in two ponytails! She had no experience but she was willing to learn and we were willing to train her. Now on top of becoming trendier, she actually achieves one of the highest sales figures because of her patience in serving customers.”

Service with a smile

Patience, a positive attitude as well as interpersonal skills are very important to succeed in this job. “Being in the sales line, you have to be positive and not show a black face if you face rejection from customers. Also, you must build rapport with the customers and treat them like your friends,” she says.

She has experienced difficult customers, such as those who are extremely demanding, or those who want refunds, even though the bottle of perfume has been used before. In such cases, she has to be patient with the customers, even if their requests are unreasonable.

Despite the challenges she faces, Jolin is still happy to be in her job because of her passion for serving others. She also feels fortunate to work for a friendly and supportive employer.

And yes, she does occasionally get to choose fragrances and cosmetics from the current collection to bring home. Yet, the lucky lady dismisses this perk as unimportant.

“I have too many already!” she says with a laugh.

Click here for jobs in Retail/Supermarket!