29 December, 2019

Book Retailing - Retail 2020 (Article #5)

Who killed the Sony Walkman? Apple iPod. Who killed Kodak Films? Digital Cameras. 

There are many such presumptive answers most of us carry, mostly opinions I would say. When the iPod was launched in 2003, it was helmed as the most disruptive Music innovation of our times. For, a small device that could be kept inside the coin pocket of a Levi’s Jeans could carry over 1,600 songs in a format created exclusively and patented by Apple. This, compared to an Audio CD which could carry at most, over 300 songs and that too in low audio quality and also needed a player with electricity to play while the iPod merely needed an earphone with a battery charged in advance. No, the iconic iPod didn’t kill the Walkman. Sony failed to innovate, despite having held a leadership position for 3 decades.

Now, let me ask – who killed the Bookstores? Amazon? Flipkart? Guess my response in the previous paragraph would have clarified the position I take while answering this question. 

Book stores worldwide and in India are not just a retail outlet but an intrinsic part of the cultural and community fabric of the society. “Do not live in a city which doesn’t have a bookshop”, goes a saying. With less than 10% of Indians using English as a medium to read and communicate daily and an average literacy rate of less than 50% across India after 72 years of gaining Independence, I guess we have a long way to walk as a country. While vernacular books (and the habit of reading is reasonable), this segment of the society is not a voracious reader, thanks to our education system which believes in the habit of mugging answers and not really cultivate the pleasure of reading. I take pride in saying that the erstwhile Madras, now Chennai is perhaps the first city in India to get an organized bookstore in the name and style of “Higginbothams” which still stands an edifice for the retail business of selling books and beyond after a century and a half. With the iconic structure on Mount Road that stands an icon in the city since the 19th Century to the less than 120 sq. ft store which opened earlier this year through the new franchisee who has taken up space at Chennai International Airport, the brand has stood the test of time spanning decades. Alongside came many hundreds of independent bookstores across the country over the past 5 decades or more. Many of them were first time Entrepreneurs who merely opened a bookshop because they didn’t get what they were looking for at other bookstores. 

Many of these bookstores have, interestingly survived not just the competition from organized book retailers over the past 25 years but also from e-commerce companies who sold books online at insane discounts, at times forgoing their business margins and most recently from E-Publishers led by none other than Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. With the onset of Malls around 2002 onwards, almost every one of them would have a bookstore of repute in premium areas. Brands which most Mall rats would remember including Landmark, Crosswords, Odyssey, Oxford Book Store, to name a few were a regular meeting spot to browse, read and buy books of various genres, cults and subjects. While the Tata Group bought the Landmark Retail chain for an estimated Rs. 100 Crores, Odyssey was acquired by Deccan Holdings and went on to become India’s first “retail” brand to be featured on the jersey of a cricket team during the IPL Tournament in 2009. K Raheja Group owned Crossroads, which is part of Shoppers Stop and Hypercity chain (eventually Inorbit Malls as well) commanded premium retail spaces, thanks to the bargaining power of the group. 

However, over time, these organized retail businesses became sluggish and slowed down on Sales. Visitors and shoppers to bookstores declined and ultimately many of the chains went bust, hailing a new era of depending on online booksellers like Flipkart and Amazon to order books and getting them delivered at home for reading at their convenience. Honestly, this is similar to ordering a crisp Masala Dosa from Swiggy and eating on your personal dining table, if you know what I mean. Just like fresh food consumed at a restaurant, books also have an aroma and a feel, the smell of paper that is unique to bookshops and to lending libraries. 

But then, the world had another view, an alternate view. Akin to how we felt that the iPod killed the Walkman, the world believed and still believes that E-Commerce killed the offline Bookstore business. I humbly beg to differ. There was an impact of online retailers on the over retail industry but to say that the retailers went bankrupt because of them is a skill of over imagination and an act of blaming the burgeoning technology industry for all our miseries. Having firsthand seen many of these bookstore chains as well as “Indie” bookstores as a consumer, as a Trade observer, as a Retailer, as a Retail Leasing Manager and as a Key Account Manager negotiating space inside book stores (during my stint at CCD), I can say with confidence that the Retail Industry themselves was mostly responsible for this calamity. 

During the 90s, when I would visit the basement store of Landmark bookstore in Chennai, the boys and girls knew exactly where a title was; they could recommend more titles based on the reader / consumer interest. However, over time the staff were untrained about the business and most importantly, lacked a passion for book reading and retailing, let alone a sense of camaraderie with the book lovers. This, in my very humble opinion is the sole reason for the decline and demise of the book retailing business. Customers expected the sales guys to know about the book itself, not just which shelf they were placed at. And they missed this in action. Their only choice was to move online where they got what they wanted. Not the discounts, if you know what I mean. 

Until last Saturday, this hasn’t changed. At the Chennai Airport’s Higginbothams store, I went to check if they had a title of JK Rowling which my daughter wanted for her vacation to which we were headed. The staff was puzzled even with the name of the author and showed his palm to a section where the Author’s books along with others was placed. A young girl came and told me that the book was not so great to which I replied it was for my kid. She glanced at me and perhaps said to herself that kids could get interested with “Fascinating Beasts” and not really adults. Now, these are the kind of interactions that book lovers expect at a “physical bookstore” while the over-hyped “phygital” concept can be put to use meanwhile by leveraging technology. For Ex., the staff at the airport could have taken my request and placed it with the HO immediately who would call me in a while and confirm if I needed the book for sure based on which they could have sent it by courier to my vacation location or to my home. Sadly, this wasn’t happening. The sales guy (and the company) perhaps thought they simply lost a sale – No, they are losing the business model itself.

There is a slow resurgence of bookstores once again, what I call as Ver. 3.0. This is mainly led by “Indie” bookstores who are getting passionate about the art of book selling.  But even they are not embracing change (Read: Technology) and adapting themselves. I can only wish them good luck as I am key in the OTP for the card transaction on the Amazon App. The book is expected to reach my home by the time I return from the vacation. 

25 December, 2019

The Café boom – Retail 2020 (Article #4)

When I was climbing up Vaishno Devi hills 5 years back late in the night, I saw to my pleasant surprise an outlet of Café Coffee Day midway known as “Ardh”. The café was quite popular among devotees and visitors and many regulars were savoring their favorite cuppa at this 24hr café. One can find over 1,700 such cafes across 450+ cities in India and the brand can be credited with creating as well as leading the “café culture” in India and introducing it to three generations since 1997 when the first one opened at Brigade Road, Bangalore.

A friend of mine asked me a few years back, “what’s it like to drink a cappuccino at Starbucks in India?” – I said, enjoying a great cup of coffee indeed. He replied, “No, one spends Rs. 350 to live their American dream while spending the 90-120 mins at the Café”. In hindsight, this is quite true. I had written in my article only yesterday that most Indians buy luxury products for the “Badge Value” it offers and not really for what the product stands for and the craftsmanship. Same is with eating out as well and no wonder, the café boom has been growing year on year in India. A Café (or a local F&B joint earlier) is the third most preferred place after Home and Workplace to have a social catch-up for most of us worldwide. 

The traditional tea shops in India, since the days of the Independence struggle, would play community radio and the entire neighbourhood would gather to listen to the latest updates. Later on, it was Ceylon FM and Geet Mala which attracted the locals only before independent Tea shops and local Restaurants started mushrooming across cities. The India Coffee House, stunningly still operational through a network of cooperative societies, is a glaring example of the gossip-gupshup culture of the 50s and 60s. And then came the trendier cafés which served Italian styled cappuccinos with local snacks and gourmet cuisines to attract the well-travelled as well as the aspirational customers of popular western culture. The rest as they say is History, rather, “History in the making”. For, we have a mere 4,000+ modern style cafés across 500 cities in India – for an estimated discerning customer segment of at least 30 million consumers in the age bracket of 18-45 years. 

Café Coffee Day is the largest café chain in India with over 1800+ cafes. In store count, second comes Starbucks which entered India in 2012 in a JV with Tata Group and operates around 180 outlets – approximately 10% of the market leader. Home grown café chains such as Barista and Java Green as well as Internationally acclaimed chains such as Costa, Gloria Jeans, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and many others entered India with much fanfare a decade or so back and have already exited with huge losses since they couldn’t get the business model right. While coveted brands like Illy Coffee are available only at select star hotels, many international café chains haven’t even entered India for obvious reasons. 

Meanwhile, India has witnessed a boom in the Tea Retailing models with a number of funded start-ups ruling the roost. Market Leader Chai Point has raised US $37.5 million and has 104 operational stores across India while Chaayos has raised US $18 million and operates 65 outlets. While these investments have largely gone into brand building, the Tea-Retailing business hasn’t been profitable even at an operating level as per market sources, thanks to the low perceived value of a cup of tea, its liberal availability across the length and breadth of the Country due to abundance of supply of raw tea leaves which are grown across the country unlike the Coffee Crop which needs a special soil and shade alongside to grow with high maintenance. Incidentally, most of the premium varieties of coffee and tea are exported for a hefty price and what we get mostly is of inferior quality. The ApeeJay Group created an innovative concept by the name “Cha-Bar” as part of the eponymous Oxford Bookstore, beginning from Park Street Kolkata to Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and across India, although neither the book retail nor the tea-retail business took off as much as many other coffee chains took the country by storm at one time. 

A few years back Hindustan Unilever experimented with Bru Café at Mumbai as a brand experience center and the Tata Group has experimented with the Brooke Bond Café at Mumbai and Tata-Cha at Bangalore, both of which haven’t expanded for reasons best known to Tata Sons. Bru Café eventually never scaled since the instant coffee was not what the consumer was willing to pay a premium for. Bru and Nescafe Sunrise are the Top 2 operators in the Rs. 2,000 Crores pa Instant Coffee Market in India with over 40% market share together with numerous others such as ITC's Sunbean, Levista, Continental Coffee, Leo Coffee, Narasus Coffee and many others are stacked up one behind the other in one of the smallest Coffee Markets (by value) in the world, disproportionate to the population size. Nescafe has been able to open Kiosks at various establishments such as Airports, Railway Stations and Corporate Tech Parks while Bru has penetrated deep in to the small and medium size offices and corporates with over 25,000 installations cumulatively across all its formats.

With 50% of India’s population under the age of 35 years, a substantial exposure among the Gen Y, Gen Z and the Millennials to global culture and higher disposable incomes than the immediate previous generations, the Café boom is yet to even begin in my opinion. But it would be fraught with challenges. Getting the right real estate is the prime challenge. Then comes standardizing the F&B assortments so the crew at café can prepare with limited OTJ training. Third, deep pockets to keep consumers coming back for repeat visits. But the good news is that the potential Consumer is not just ready but is willing to pay a premium for discerning concepts. 

As I write this article, Gloria Jeans is making a comeback, CCD is about to get a new Investor cum Owner and a few interesting brands are scaling. Exciting space ahead. So I can write more interesting stuff about my favourite beverage, more often.

24 December, 2019

Luxury Retailing - Retail 2020 (Article #3)

I started my career in Retail in 1997 scooping ice-cream at Baskin Robbins’ second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfolds, I am writing a series of 20 articles over 20 days (10 in Dec ’19 starting 22/12 and 10 in Jan ’20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today, I have written about the Luxury Retailing Industry which is pegged at US $ 1.3 Trillion globally and growing at a CAGR of 12%.

Many years before when I was responsible for setting up India’s first ever retail arena at India’s first private airport at Bangalore in 2006, I had a special focus on creating a luxury retail zone. When I approached global brands like Apple, GAP, Omega and many others in India and abroad, they didn’t evince much interest. For India was not even a budding Luxury market then. Mont Blanc writing instruments, which is among the Top Brands sold across Airports worldwide didn’t have a presence in India at the time with a standalone store and we were keen to bring them on board at the Airport with an exclusive store, but the principals politely declined the offer. I have a long list of such disappointments from my tenure at BIAL. 

Today, things are different. The global luxury market is pegged at US $1.3 Trillion annually (including services such as Travel, Resorts and Hospitality) and India alone has an estimated market size of $6 billion growing at 9% CAGR since 2012 – across various categories ranging from Watches to Clothes, Automobiles to Cigars, Wines to Writing Instruments and so on. Incidentally, the Luxury Market size of China is pegged at $25 Billion and growing twice as fast as that of India. USA remains the largest contributor to global luxury retailing at over US $85 billion followed by Europe at an estimated US $65 billion. 

Much of the luxury consumption in India is attributed to two budding customer segments – HNIs and their families living in Tier 2/3 markets and HENRYs – High Earning Not Rich Yet Individuals. Apart from these, the core segment remains eminent business families, celebrities in Sports and Arts and professionals in Industries such as Banking, Manufacturing, etc. to name a few. A “Titan Watch” and a “Raymond” Suit were the preferred gifts for the bride and groom at most middleclass households (including yours truly) two decade back. But things are much different today. Most Indians who consume luxury brands neither have an idea why the brand is luxury (rather, priced so high) nor do they appreciate the craftsmanship of the product. As the saying goes – Aim for the sky and you would end up at the roof, I was eyeing a Patek Phillippe for over 3 years but finally ended up with a Longines Limited Edition a decade ago (which happens to be my last luxury catch @ Rs. 1.40 lakhs then!). It was a lot of hard-earned money coupled with dreams and ambitions built over time (Miles2Go). But when I see the GenZ & Millenials sporting luxury brands today, be it a shoulder bag from Prada or a pair of sneakers from Nike meant for trained athletes, they do not appreciate the purpose of the luxurious product beyond the “badge value” it adds to their self-esteem and prestige. 

Same is the case with electronic products, especially from brands like Apple or Bang & Olufsen. Apple fanboys (and fangirls) stand in Q all night to buy their coveted new launches since they mostly appreciate the features the product offers. Unlike in India, where the latest iPhone is more a symbol of prestige in the society and the associated benefits (like getting a table faster at a restaurant – I am not kidding!). While brands like Bose remained “luxury” and niche until a few years ago in India, thanks to deep discounting and presence on e-commerce websites, they are now competing with local and Chinese imports in their respective categories. 

Having said that, Luxury Retailing in India is still in its infancy. Even if the market grows at 10% CAGR for the next five years, we would still be less than 5-8% of the global market. No wonder Indian discerning consumers prefer to make a trip to Singapore or Dubai to shop for clothes and watches every few months. That they fly Business Class and stay at Mandarin Oriental or The Palms Jumeira is adding up to the global market size anyway.

23 December, 2019

Music Retail - Retail 2020 (Article #2)

I started my career in Retail in 1997, scooping ice-cream at Basin Robbins' second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfold, I am writing a series of 20 Articles over 20 days (10 in Dec' 19 and 10 in Jan'20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today I have written about the "Music Retail Industry".

I joined RPG Retail as a Management Trainee through campus selection at ITM Business School where I pursued my 2-year MBA. After a 21-day orientation, we were sent to our respective “regions” as per the traditional culture of the then corporate behemoths. And mine was Kolkata, West Bengal. I reached out to my then GM – HR and asked her “why me?”. I had never crossed beyond Tamil Nadu for my vacations or holidays all my life and here, I am being sent to an unknown territory, unknown language, unknown people, unknown everything and that too on my first job. She said, this is one decision you’d never regret in your life. And I haven’t, true to her words.

Musicworld at Park Street, Kolkata was at the time the largest music store in Asia and among the largest in the world only behind the Virgin Music and HMV Stores at London. Spread over 8,000 sq. ft., the Muwicworld store was a cynosure of eyes for the locals as well as those visiting the city – returning Indians, NRIs and Music lovers from all over India and the world. The store had over 30,000 SKUs across 4 major languages – Bengali, Hindi, Western English and Devotional Music. This was the time around the turn of the Millennium when Audio Music CDs in regional Indian languages were getting launched at Rs. 299 per unit. And then, T-Series, the illustrious Music company which took audio cassettes to the masses launched the Audio CD of Dil Chahta Hai at just Rs. 99. Even at the time, the music store would clock a monthly turnover of around Rs. 50 lakhs and that December when I was managing the operations, the store peaked at close to Rs. 90 lakhs in Turnover – audio cassettes in Bengali and Hindi were contributing over 60% in volumes and less than 50% in value terms, while the CDs coupled with Gaming CDs and VCDs contributed the rest. At this rate, I thought this business would never cease to exist. I was wrong.

RPG launched HamaraCD in two forms – one where a consumer could login to the website and choose the playlist; second, a self-service kiosk placed at select MW Stores where one could do the same. The only hitch – it was priced at Rs. 399 for a track list of 12-15 songs (around 300 MB space on the disk, if I recall correctly). This was a revolutionary concept at the time and again, I thought this was probably the way forward. 

My selection into RPG Musicworld was based on multiple reasons – of course, the Management Panel had their own reasons to choose me during the formal rounds of Group Discussion and Personal Interviews. Other than that, I was a trained musician in Indian Carnatic Music starting to learn the “Mridangam”, a percussion instrument at the age of 9. I started performing on stage at the age of 11 and thereafter pursued until I hit a very bad patch in high school studies when my parents decided to discontinue the art for want of having me to focus and score good marks. I restarted learning the art after 2.5 decades from none other my Late Guru's son last year. 

There is another reason for my passion towards Music & Music retail – while at school in Class 9 & 10, I was experimenting my first tryst with Entrepreneurship (unknowingly of course, only to save some from money to eat Samosas after school) by recording playlists for friends for a fee. Here’s how that model worked. I would buy music cassettes of latest Tamil films from the wholesale market in Chennai at Ritchie Street for around Rs. 23 /- (MRP was Rs. 28/-) by cycling 6 km from home in the pretext of attending some group studies with friends or extra tuition classes. There was also a shop nearby where the shopkeeper would rent me cassettes for Rs. 10 for 3 days during which I would record songs from films which I didn’t possess in my library. Then, I would buy empty cassettes for Rs. 12 which could accommodate around 6/7 songs. From the plethora of film songs I had, I would curate a list that my classmates and friends preferred along with a title card, handwritten and sketched with my self-branding and sell it for Rs. 30-35, depending on the demand at the time. From immediate classmates to seniors to juniors, I had a long and happy list of customers who came back to me from time to time. The “venture” was short lived since I decided to focus on whatever spare-time I had on school studies. 

Managing a Rs. 7 Crores pa topline and a healthy profitability in my first job two decades back, my stint at Musicworld Kolkata is the one I cherish among the most in my professional career. I made a lot of stranger-turned friends, some of whom I am still in touch with and we start our chats where we left the last time, of sorts. But more than that, I would wonder how this business could be sustainable in the long term since piracy of music was getting popular around that time, albeit consumers had an inferior experience listening to music. In my first report to the company, I suggested that we also sell CD Players thereby inducing music lovers to upgrade from Cassettes to CDs and once they fell in love with the original and high quality of music through CDs, they wouldn’t prefer pirated ones. Due to various reasons, the company didn’t pursue the idea. 

Musicworld was among the first few brands in India to offer a Loyalty Card known as “Masti Card” wherein the holder of the card would get preferred treatment in terms of discounts and offers across various other retail formats. The concept was a big hit during it’s limited lifetime and there were even local, small-time shopkeepers wanting to be associated with MW Masti Card for the pride it offered to them. I travelled by Trams, Metro Trains, Buses and Taxis to multiple Retail Establishments from Garia to Esplanade, VIP Road to Taj Bengal to induct them into the coveted Club. Such good experiences right in my first job. Later on during my stint at RPG Foodworld, there used to be MW Kiosks with the Chartbuster Titles only and I would take special care of this vertical due to my loyalty and allegiance to Music.

I was also among the first to write an Obit Column for Musicworld when it finally downed its shutters at Kolkata as well as ceased to exist as a concept. Honestly, I saw it coming since the company, for various internal reasons, wasn’t pursuing the digital way forward even as MP3 was the preferred mode of listening to Music until online Music streaming has become the norm currently. That SaReGaMa, the company which was formed after RPG bought over the titles from HMV had a huge repertoire of music across genres (those days in digital form) wasn’t put to best use, perhaps by the company. Very sad indeed.

On Dec. 7, when the Music album of Superstar Rajinikanth starred “Darbar” released in three languages - Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, Gaana App – the online streaming company owned by The Times of India Group (ironically, the biggest competition for Musicworld was PlanetM which was owned by same The Times Group back in the 2000s) had bought exclusive rights for streaming Darbar Music which meant that other Apps like Jio-Saavn, Airtel's Wynk Music, Amazon Prime Music app and Google Music cannot officially stream them. While it’s not clear how much Gaana incurred on this, the market estimate is that the company has paid over Rs. 6 Crores for this exclusive right until the film releases on 9 January 2020. During this period, Gaana expects to quadruple the number of its userbase in South where it has been weak, with a retention rate as high as 20% Month on Month which is again 2x the market average. the song "Chumma Kizhi" from Darbar album had 28 million realtime views on Youtube in 24 hours of launch. And today, I see that the Tamil album alone has 10 Million+ Playouts on the Mobile Music App... Says a lot of how Music Retail is still prevalent, just that the consumption patterns have changed, or evolved if I may say so. 

Times have changed so much that during the Darbar Music launch, there wasn’t any CD which was actually released in the open market. While Music Retail (offline) is almost dead, online Music Retail through streaming websites and Apps is here to stay. Else, why would the young Aakash Ambani pay a premium of USD 100 million to acquire a Music over-the-top (OTT) app Saavn to add to Jio’s portfolio to build a USD 1 Bn entity? 

Picture abhi baki hai, mere dost. 

22 December, 2019

Salons & Grooming - Retail 2020 (Article #1)

I started my career in Retail in 1997 scooping ice-cream at Baskin Robbins’ second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfolds, I am writing a series of 20 articles over 20 days (10 in Dec ’19 and 10 in Jan ’20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today, I have written about the Salon Industry which is pegged at 100,000  crores annually and a CAGR of 15-18%. 

Every road in the heavily populated Mega Cities, Leading Metros and the Top 50 cities across India have a Salon or a Beauty Parlour. Even then, you would find that a national chain or a regionally popular brand name is scarce, say 1 out of 10 such salons. Around 3 decades back, premium Salons & Parlours in India for the uber rich, the industrialists, ace sports persons and Celebrities of Art and Cinema were restricted to the 5-Star Hotels. They would fancy paying a premium at these reputed places for their personal grooming and makeover in closed confines with assured privacy. Almost around the turn of the new Millennium, Entrepreneurs started opening premium-looking Salons with not so premium Prices with a few key differentiator such as maintaining the hygiene of the precincts as well as qualified staff. 

The “barber” or “beautician” had a new title sans a visiting card though – they came to be known as Stylists. Chains such as Naturals, Limelite, YLG, Enrich, Toni & Guy and many smaller regional brands started popping all over the country attracting a host of consumers for basic services such as the humble monthly hair cut for men and waxing and eyebrows for women to the more detailed services like a Keratin Hair Treatment or a complete makeover ahead of a wedding or betrothal or even a Baby shower. Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai followed by many other Indian girls getting crowned at International Beauty Pageants only added popularity to the business of making people look better. After all, Beauty is skin deep, as the saying goes. 

I have been a risk taker all my life, even as the adage goes “With high risks come high rewards”. I took it a bit too personally by opting for colouring my hair red in 2005, thanks to my Stylists insistent perseverance when I was working for United Colours of Benetton as Area Manager for South India hoping to add glamour and colour to my lifestyle. To my surprise, neither of it happened and I vowed never to colour my hair ever again in my lifetime, even as my “Stylist “ urges me every month if I would like to shade my greying hair on the head. 

Among the various retail formats, the Salon Industry got itself in to an act all by itself since it touches the lives of millions. No matter what an individual’s employment or profession is, since everyone wants to look well groomed and that’s basic. Add to that various self-pampering activities for oneself and this market is going to explode in market opportunity.

Also, it throws open the possibilities of Entrepreneurship- for an investment of less than ₹15 lakhs, a Salon can be opened and it doesn’t cost much more to open a branded one. All that Customers look for are easy ingress and egress, Parking for 4 Wheelers, consistent service by the Stylists and a hygienic environment which is well maintained. Easier said than done, I reckon since the biggest challenge that this Industry faces today is poaching of staff by competitors since consumers prefer a Stylist over a Salon (name). 

Ironically, I got an opportunity to join a premium brand of Salon as a Manager in 2003. My family disapproved it for obvious reasons that it was infra-dig to work at such an Industry. Not anymore. I was a Consultant to a premium and popular Salon chai. Two years back and accomplished my lifetime wish. If I were to bet my life on a retail format for the next decade, it would be this.

13 December, 2019

Retail Employees Day

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. 

Thank you, HR

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