This Family Business is No Stranger to Technology and Innovation

Alicia and Jennifer Tam give an inside look into the heritage company’s take on technology

When Robert Tam, Executive Director and third-generational heir to the heritage lifestyle brand Chicks in Hong Kong, took over the reins of the company, his interest in business technology immediately showed.

Robert undertook the task of technologically upgrading the company’s production line for increased efficiency. He introduced new clothing lines under the Chicks banner to adapt to changing customer preferences in the Hong Kong of the 1980s and 1990s, such as the fondly-remembered machine-washable, anti-shrink, moth-resistant woollen thermal underwear.

Today, his daughters and Chicks Directors Alicia and Jennifer Tam are tasked with a similar mandate­–to carry forward Chicks’ legacy of 67 years in the age of innovation.

“When we [joined the company], quite a lot of systems were already in place [internally]. So, we apply technology to improve our company or efficiency when our partners or our vendors have issues,” Jennifer says.

Without a big IT team, the company prefers to play to the strengths of its partners and third-party vendors for tech solutions, which, Jennifer says, turns out to be cost-effective as well. In addition to these external relationships, market sensitivity also influences their decisions on when to integrate new tech into the company, such as launching its online store just when ecommerce was experiencing a boom in Hong Kong in 2017.

For instance, not only have they overhauled Chicks’ point-of-sale system for speedier internal processes and sales, but they also rely on real-time data analytics software to keep their decision-making informed.

The sisters’ rationale for taking forward their father Robert’s inclination toward using tech in the family business resonates with the global innovation mantra that if a business doesn’t change, it gets left behind.

“We don’t have to implement all [kinds of] technology in our company. It’s really about keeping an open mind, listening to what’s out there and then if it’s right for our company, we implement it,” Jennifer says.

While technology does make the job more efficient, integrating it is a long and tedious process involving a lot of data. In addition to customer data and preferences, the company also considers the opinions of frontline and sales staff on what they believe the market is signaling.

Further, keeping in line with the sisters’ principle of transparency with their teams, Jennifer says that bringing any kind of innovation to the family business entails open communication.

“Involving our team right at the start is important because in the end, they use the system,” Jennifer says. “The difficulty is to convince the team that we need this. I think that’s significant. Once they buy into it, things just roll.”

And sometimes, it doesn’t go the way they envisioned. For instance, the Tam sisters recently rolled out an inventory exercise that was meant to increase their supply chain efficiency. However, their team pointed out to them that the changes the Tams were suggesting could in fact have the opposite effect on frontline staff. They got back to the sisters with a different proposal which better reflected their needs, hitting upon a perfect compromise.

This is one of many anecdotes that are characteristic of Alicia and Jennifer’s approach, which calls for transparency and open communication within the family business, and is rooted in its core values.

In another instance, Chicks recently partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Hong Kong to understand its own supply chain and the environmental impact of Chicks’ garments through blockchain.

The genesis of the project was cemented in the belief that consumers have a right to know where their clothes are coming from, and to be able to trace the production process. While Chicks went ahead with a pilot, they ultimately could not implement it across their existing operations, due to the limitations of the blockchain platform as well as increased costs for their suppliers. At the end of the day, the market could not demonstrate that it was ready for something like this, Jennifer says.

Driving innovation within the company ultimately comes down to a balancing act between the company’s historical legacy and the two sisters’ own ideas.

“We didn’t choose our team, we didn’t choose the product, we didn’t choose our brand. So when we came in, [there were] a lot of things that we had to adjust to,” Jennifer points out.

Instead of speeding ahead with their agendas, the Tam sisters have instead chosen to be more patient with their role in the company, taking the time to understand everything from the brand and product, to their audience, and even the company’s daily routine.

As the sisters continue to find their roots within the company, Jennifer hopes that the company culture and the sisters’ philosophies will eventually harmonize, finding common ground for the company to grow even as times continue to change.

Header image courtesy of Chicks

This article was written in partnership with Chicks.

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