12 December is celebrated annually as Retail Employees Day, an occasion to thank the frontend staff who have taken up Retail as their preferred occupation. Started in the year 2011 with a few outlets, RED 2019 was celebrated with much fervour across the country with celebrities coming forward to wish and thank the front-end staff for their continued service.
It was a chance meeting that Mr. BS Nagesh, Former MD & CEO of Shoppers Stop, India’s much respected Department Store Chain, had with a few staff on the shop floor when he was setting up TRRAIN – Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India, that the staff said they were not being recognised for the work they do at Retail Stores. Thus was born RED, as a day to show gratitude to the staff who work multiple shifts daily, travel long distances mostly on public transport and in many cases, a primary or an ancillary bread winner for the family along with the parent.
I am personally quite happy that RED has grown and like how over the past decade.
To give you a perspective, every 7th person in the world works in a Retail Environment, directly or indirectly. This includes people who work on the shop floor, at warehouses, those who are involved in supply chain and delivery and so on. In India, over 40 million people are directly employed in the Retail Trade which contributes to 3.3% of India’s GDP.
Today, India boasts of over 800 Malls of which at least a Third of them clock a turnover of over 300 Crores annually. Two decades back, shopping was restricted to the nearby Kirana Shop for buying day today Grocery & Household shopping and the city centre or the “Market” area where consumers would flock during festive occasions to buy clothes, accessories, footwear, home furnishing, etc. even as the annual shopping trend (like today) was non-existent.
The taboo of working in a Retail Environment can be best explained by me, perhaps since I have faced flak personally during my early days in Retail.
I started my working life at the age of 19 scooping Ice-Cream at Baskin Robbin’s first outlet in Chennai as a part-time employee from 11am – 3pm while pursuing my second year B. Com (evening college) as well as attending NIIT classes at 7am, to acquire coding skills of C, C++ Visual Basic and so on. I was chided by “elders” (but not my parents) in the family for working as a “server” at an ice-cream joint and was forced to quit the part time assignment in less than a year which was feeding my pocket money.
However, I was so impressed with this Industry that I ditched my coveted Computer Education only to pursue an MBA in Marketing after UG, join RPG Retail through Campus Placement as a Management Trainee and a few years later, added the tagline “Retailer by Profession and Choice” to my bio which remains till date.
Even during my stint at Foodworld Supermarkets, my own extended family members as well as a few neighbours would mock at my choice of employment, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of my Parents. They thought I didn’t get a more “handsome job”, was working at a “shop” which wasn’t the best of jobs one could get after a respectable MBA and wasn’t “marriage worthy” although the Industry was paying good salaries, took abundant care of the employees with benefits, provided decent pay, incentives & compensation and most importantly, Customers immensely respected the Retail staff.
Its so nice to see celebrities coming forward to thank Retail employees for their stupendous efforts and good work. Some of it is sharp marketing, one may say. So be it. At least, that way the likes of King Khan associate himself with the Retail Industry and the staff, raising the bar at how “we” are perceived in the society.
This is just the beginning, as I famously quote that “The Great Indian Retail Story is yet to be fully told and is still to meaningfully unfold”. Watch this space.
And thank you, Retail Industry. But for the choice of continuing to work at Baskin Robbins in 1997 despite the discrimination from the society, I wouldn't be where I am in life and most importantly, wouldn't have written this piece.
Much obliged and always proud to call myself a "Retailer by Choice". Here's wishing all the employees working in ur Industry a great future ahead.