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 to visit our Miri outlet on a quarterly basis, instead of the usual monthly visits enjoyed by the stores in West Malaysia. Lai Sim swiftly worked with Ms Lim and the various merchandising managers to overcome the shortage of books for the official opening of the POPULAR Miri outlet. Learning from this experience, Lai Sim and her team began planning their procurements on a monthly basis instead of depending on the vendors’ quarterly visits, ensuring a good inventory level to support the growth of POPULAR’s Miri outlet. Learning on the Job After operations at POPULAR’s Miri outlet had stabilised, Lai Sim was transferred back to West Malaysia, where she was promoted to Strategy Business Unit (SBU) Manager, Operations to oversee a cluster of POPULAR Malaysia outlets in October 1997. Although Lai Sim had no experience in stationery merchandising, she was determined to learn on the job. She was doubtlessly a fast learner as she was re-designated as the SBU Manager, Stationery Merchandising, in January 1998. Lai Sim’s tenacity continued to be recognised when she was promoted to Merchandising Manager, Stationery, in July 2000. However, the first part of Lai Sim’s career in POPULAR came to a sudden halt in March 2008 when she tendered her resignation to focus on her family business. Though the priorities in her life had changed then, her heart clearly remained with POPULAR as she eventually returned in August 2009 as Senior Merchandising Manager of the Popular Guangzhou office in China. Expanding POPULAR’s Offerings Lai Sim was the ideal candidate to lead Popular Guangzhou’s purchasing and procurement operations given her strong capability and adaptiveness, as well as the knowledge of the retail consumer markets for stationery in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Lai Sim immediately embraced her new work environment and culture with an open mind, working closely with her China team to source for stationery, CDs, and multimedia products that would appeal to POPULAR’s customers. During her time in Guangzhou, Lai Sim oversaw the development of POPULAR’s house brands of stationery, which included POP Bazic, POP Artz and POP Urban. She played a crucial role in expanding the range of stationery items, as well as novel gift ideas and fancy stationery products, sourced from various manufacturers located in Japan, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. Through Lai Sim’s efforts, POPULAR secured exclusive deals with global stationery brands such as Foldermate, AMOS Korea and FLOMO. In November 2013, Lai Sim was posted back to Singapore as Senior Merchandising Manager in charge of UrbanWrite Singapore. She took on her new role concurrently with her continuing oversight of the operations of Popular Guangzhou’s purchasing and procurement office. Staying in Touch Although the frequent travel between the two POPULAR offices has been busy and hectic, Lai Sim believes in being around her teams as much as she can, so as to be able to deal with various challenges on the ground with her teams in real time. Lai Sim brought UrbanWrite into 13 POPULAR outlets in Singapore through a store-in-store concept, while working on the establishment of three UrbanWrite standalone stores. In October 2018, she was promoted to General Manager of UrbanWrite and Roadshow. But Lai Sim did not stop there. In 2019, she was given the additional portfolios of leading Popular Singapore’s Stationary Department and overseeing the Titbits Merchandising Department. In August 2021, Lai Sim led the Roadshow Team to start POPULAR’s first pop-up store in Parkway Parade, a prominent shopping mall in the eastern part of Singapore. With an Open Mind Like many long-serving staff, Lai Sim has grown with POPULAR and witnessed changing consumer preference resulting from the adoption of new technologies. With more aspects of our lives progressively moving into the digital realm, Lai Sim opines that China has taken the lead in embracing cashless transactions on their mobile phones. However, she believes that POPULAR’s brick-and-mortar bookstores still play an important role in delivering the POPULAR experience to our customers. “Our physical retail shops will still be providing extensive product offerings for customers who prefer a more tactile shopping experience.”  28 - popularnews 136 

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