Nancy Wong is helping family business Luk Fook sparkle in Hong Kong and beyond
Working in her family business, Nancy Wong Lan-sze, now executive director of Hong Kong jewellery chain Luk Fook Group, developed her love for gold and diamonds from a young age.
Wong’s grandfather and father ran a jewellery shop in Wong Tai Sin, where she helped out after school every day. “While my classmates spent their weekends chilling out with their families, my weekends were awfully hectic. I was in charge of selling earrings. I was popular with old ladies – they enjoyed dealing with a little girl,” Wong recalls.
In 1991, Wong’s father, William Wong Wai-sheung, started the Luk Fook retail empire by opening the first store in North Point. In five months, three more outlets were opened, and the company continued to boom and was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 1997.
While her father was having great success with the business, Wong and the rest of the family were away in Canada. “I migrated there when I was in Form Two and returned to Hong Kong after I graduated with a degree in accounting from the University of Toronto,” she says.
Wong worked for three years in an audit firm before joining Luk Fook in 2006. “I joined the company’s accounts department after I became a certified public accountant. It was not easy for me to adjust to working at Luk Fook. The first hurdle I had to overcome was communicating in Chinese. I know Chinese well, but I seldom typed in Chinese in my previous job and at school. My typing speed was unbearable. After a week on the job, I forced myself to learn the Cangjie input method as quickly as possible,” she says.
Wong’s father later encouraged her to move on to investor relations. “My father said, as I am good with numbers, I would have an advantage when trying to persuade investors. Working in investor relations was an eye-opener for me. I met many different businesspeople and learned to look at a business from different points of view,” she says.
Wong also played a major role in a marketing campaign for Luk Fook that won several awards for its television commercial series Love is Beautiful. “The commercial is a reflection of the Luk Fook culture – we serve clients like friends and we are like a big family. The key to success in staff management is to create a family-like working environment.
“I always treat my staff with dignity. I act by example; if you are polite to your employees, they will be polite to clients,” she says.
With more than 1,300 outlets in Asia and North America, keeping up service standards at every Luk Fook outlet is a major challenge. Wong developed a system to evaluate the quality of service. “I remembered spending three sleepless nights coming up with a checklist … the lighting, how the chairs should be arranged, the cleanliness of the glass – I tried to have a grading system for every detail. [Now] secret shoppers visit the stores to grade the service standards according to the list,” she says.
Providing adequate training is also important to providing consistent service. “I wrote scripts and produced videos to teach staff how to promote a new jewellery collection. There are online quizzes to ensure staff are familiar with what they have learnt.”
Luk Fook started exploring the mainland market in 1994. Today, it has over 1,200 outlets there. Wong says this will continue to be a major part of the company’s development. “The third- and fourth-tier cities will be the focus of our expansion plans. The people in those places are getting rich and we can make use of the relatively lower rents to open outlets.”
While the majority of Luk Fook’s shops are on the mainland, Wong says Hong Kong remains the place with the highest consumption. “There is no tax [on buying] gold in Hong Kong, so many mainland consumers are willing to spend more here. Customers at mainland shops spend an average of HK$3,000 to HK$4,000, while shoppers in Hong Kong spend up to HK$8,000.”
In recent years, Hong Kong retailers have been criticised for catering for mainland tourists while neglecting the needs of locals. “I think there is a need to strike a balance between [the interests of] business and society,” Wong says.
A proposed solution is to limit the number of visitor entries to 52 times a year for travellers with multiple-entry permits. Wong, however, doesn’t think mainlanders will visit 50 times to buy gold. “So I don’t think the policy will have much impact on our business if it is implemented.”
Wong is devoted full-time to her career. “I usually finish work at 8pm, but I’m still working when I go home because my father and I continue to discuss work. It seems I am working all the time. I don’t mind, I love what I do,” she says.
She likes to treat herself with jewellery. “My parents gave me jewellery for doing well at school when I was young. Now, I like to buy jewellery as a treat for myself.
“As I grow older, I have begun to appreciate the beauty of jade. But diamonds are my favourite. When I was younger, I enjoyed looking at the patterns made from small pieces of diamonds. Now my taste for diamonds is simple: the bigger the better.”