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Evolving Retail Manpower in India

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The picture of retail reflects the colours of both retailers and retail associates. To keep this picture figurative, it is the call of the hour to assess how much both are poised to meet the satisfaction level of consumers. B.S. Nagesh, Founder, TRrAIN talks to BoF on the pre-eminent issue.

One question that always haunts my mind is what could be the most difficult job for any retailer. During an informal conversation with a retailer friend, it was revealed that to greet a customer while entering the store is an art, and one that requires much thought to get it right! Greeting a customer is the first step towards forming a long-term association with them and, in most of the cases, only retail associates or floor attendants are involved in this act. Initially, I was apprehensive; how much are our retail staff and we (retailers) prepared to tackle the challenges in retail? And, if at all we are, then to what extent?

In modern retail, we have approximately 1 crore and 20 lakh retail outlets in the country, which employ almost 3 crore and 30 lakh retail personnel who are known by different names in different retail formats—salespersons, sales staff, and retail associates. In the light of these equations, if I call it a nation of shopkeepers or retailers, I think it would sound right. This raises a significant question: what is the status of shopkeepers or retailers in this country full of retailers?

We often call for home delivery from grocers, online retailers and other store formats. But, how much do we know about the people who come home to deliver the goods? How many of us ask for their name or call them by their name? What is their identity in the whole picture? During InFashion, while moderating a session, I came to know about many facts in this context. Usually, retail is taken up as the last career option for budding youth in the family when no other domain looks viable to them. We, as retailers, have decided this out of choice. Although, the next generation in the profession, with a close association of their retail associates, has changed this phase to a greater extent. In the transformed scenario, shops are now called stores while shopkeepers are becoming retailers. Chotus toiling in these stores are now referred to as salespersons, retail staff, or retail associates. Many of the educational institutions have taken up retail and retail management as one of the specialised subjects in their syllabus.

Overall, the situation is self-explanatory: society reflects back just as we position our associates and ourselves in it. Perhaps, this is the only reason why , who was once just stacked shelves at a local store, is today the CEO of the company.

Coming back to the core issue, that is, how much we and our staff are prepared to meet the expectations of our customers, I see retail as a never-ending allegory. No character in this saga can be poised without a sense of security – in the sense of their family and pursuit. During the session, I came to know about certain retailers who care for their staff as their own offspring. A retailer from Sirsa is as attentive towards the higher education of his children as he is for his retail staff. He even approached the local civic authorities to release scholarship for the needy and performing students in the families of his staff members. Can you imagine the result of this simple but touching action? His staff reciprocated by providing him with the best of services. Some of them have been associated with the retailer for over 25 years now. The noteworthy aspect is that the retailer extended every possible security to his staff members in order to prepare them as per the standards of retail services. This he accomplished in spite of having no formal training in HR management.

Upliftment of the retail industry as a whole, including retailers and retail associates, becomes a shared positive approach even for manufacturers. For instance, textile mills come forward to develop an effective model through which the retail staff can not only be trained but also they should feel proud to be associated with the trade. Retailers too seem ready to adopt this novel approach. Although most of them are willing to accept it on an individual level, this practice should be adopted by the whole industry. But, I see it as a bigger challenge at this point of time. We should adapt  to the approach of the youth where they willingly take pride in retail as an occupation. A survey by TRRAIN revealed that 50 per cent of the new generation of retailers don’t want to adopt their family business.

However, with the inland evolution of modern retail, this situation has shown considerable improvement. Even traditional retailers have taken up constructive measures to attract their next generation of family members in their business. Not only a new avtar of stores is visible but also glamour has been added to functional methods, which perhaps has managed to draw in youngsters into the business. Sari and ethnicwear retailers are perhaps a better example. In the category, a few retailers are working with highly professional approach and don’t think twice before hiring professionals to run their operation smoothly and effectively.

The fast-changing retail scenario in the country makes it essential and significant to march forward with even better preparations. From my personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that if given the right atmosphere and direction, the retail employee can perform better. If we can adopt the right approach in the near future, we can meet any challenge that comes our way and draw our own growth chart.