New Delhi: When businessman Ashok Sood wanted to renew a security contract to guard his factory in Noida, the agency that had been doing it for the past three years demanded a 30% fee hike.
“It (the security agency) said there was an acute shortage of guards because of an increased demand for security personnel from malls,” says Sood, who runs an automation machinery factory in the New Delhi suburb. “I was also told that malls offered better pay.”
The agency settled for a 22% hike only because Sood was an old client.
India’s move from legions of tiny shops to large malls has spelled boom time for the country’s private security industry.
“The requirements are quite huge as hundreds are coming up in India,” says Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of trade body Central Association of Private Security Industry.
Singh says the industry currently employs about 600,000 people, a number that is likely to grow some 25% a year in the next two years, and organized retail is expected to contribute one-fifth of the growth.
Less than 5km from Sood’s factory in Noida’s Sector 2, the Great India Place mall is teeming with shoppers. Around eight security guards frisk visitors passing through metal detectors in droves at the main entrance.
About 50,000 people visit the Great India Place on an average day and the mall deploys about 85-100 security personnel in any given shift that Unitech Ltd, the mall owner, sources through contracts from various security agencies. And, there are hundreds of others hired by retailers to man the gates and keep a watchful eye on trial rooms.
The growth of organized retail in India is seeing an increase in a new breed of shoplifters who find these big stores an ideal place to strike.
At Noida’s Big Bazaar store at the Great India Place, half a dozen plainclothes guards roam the aisles on busy weekends, making mock purchases during rush hour. At nearby Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle department stores, guards keep a tab on the number of clothes customers take into the trial rooms.
“It is part and parcel of the security job,” says Mayur Toshniwal, president of operations for value retailing at Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd that owns Big Bazaar. “Security doesn’t mean only standing at the gate.”
Mall jobs are becoming popular among security guards since they come with the convenience of being in an upmarket, air-conditioned environment.
“Quite a lot of strength of guards like to work indoors (of malls and stores),” says Rehana Qureshi, regional marketing director for North Africa, West Asia and South Asia at G4S Plc., a leading security agency.
Around 15% of the agency’s 130,000 security personals are deployed in retail. “It is just as simple as choosing to be inside an air-conditioned store instead of standing out in the sun, manning the gates of a factory,” says Qureshi.
Some guards, however, prefer these jobs for altogether different reasons. After failing to run a magazine stall in Bihar’s Baghalpur district, Porash Kumar landed up in New Delhi five years ago and took a guard’s job with Asian Securities and Intelligence agency.
After having worked at a television studio and several residential buildings, he was sent to Shopprix Mall in Noida’s Sector 61. And he says he loves his job.
“Earlier, I was hesitant about speaking to educated ladies, but here I interact with them all the time and am much more comfortable speaking with them,” says Kumar, who gets a monthly salary of Rs3,500.
With more and more malls mushrooming throughout the country, the security industry is upbeat about consistent growth in the near future. A report by audit and consultancy firm Ernst and Young pegged the number of malls in the country at around 300 at the end of 2007 and it expects the number to double by 2010.