This year, I am fortunate to celebrate RED – Retail Employees Day with over 500 front end staff in my team at Specsmakers. What started on 12/12 a decade back in a few retail chains who were part of Retailers Association of India (RAI) has become an annual event now with hundreds of Retailers across the country saluting and celebrating the spirit of lakhs of frontend workforce across thousands of retail stores. The day is an important one in the annual HR-led celebration of every retail company today and in the current times, with the risky environment in which the employees brave to work is stupendous. May their attitudes soar higher and may they achieve greater name and fame in times to come.
Looking back at myself, I started as a frontend retail staff in an ice-cream parlour as a part time employee way back in 1997 in Chennai. It was the city’s first and the country’s second parlour for US fast food chain “Baskin Robbins” and was located on the way to the Marina Beach, at Mylapore. I studied B.Com (UG) at Vivekananda College, Ramakrishna Mission in the evening from 4pm – 8pm and learnt computer languages at NIIT in the morning from 7am – 9am. During the day from 11am – 3pm, I would scoop ice-cream and desserts and learn the ropes of retailing and customer service. At the end of my computer course which coincided with my third year UG, I decided to continue my focus in the same field that I had been groomed for over 2 years, ending up in a PG in Marketing. Thereafter, my first job was as a Store Manager with RPG Retail’s formats including Musicworld and Foodworld as a Management Trainee. As days and years pass by, I thank everyday my stars, my peers, my former & current bosses and of course, the customers of various businesses that I have been associated with – due to which I remain an eternal student of retail forever.
Early in my career, I chose the tagline “Retailer by Profession & Choice”. Over time, this appeared on my resume, my LinkedIn profile and as my introduction at 100s of seminars on Retail that I have been privileged to address to students at B-Schools, employees and entrepreneurs over the past twenty years. And there are two strong reasons for choosing this tagline: One, I wanted to have something similar to how global iconic brands have (or had) – “Yeh Dil Maange More”, for example. Something, that can be related to me and only me when someone refers about me. Second, back in the new Millennium, Retail was not a preferred job, forget it being considered an Industry. It was widely said that UGs and PGs who didn’t get a proper job in Manufacturing, Banking or IT/ITES industries ended up as an FMCG Salesman or even worse, as a manager or a deputy in a “retail showroom”. Even managerial jobs in Retailing were considered lowly from a socio-economic point of view until around 2010 when the Industry started looking up – thanks to the emergence of Malls, huge network of retail chain stores and the growth of Indian business houses such as The Future Group, Tata Westside and eventually, Reliance Retail in 2008 as well as entry and scaling up of International Retailers and Brands such as Marks & Spencer, Zara, etc. taking wings and soaring high in India across Tier 1/2/3 towns.