Mumbai: India’s largest retailer, Pantaloon Retail India Ltd, plans to hire housewives and senior citizens to staff its stores as major retailers start facing a shortage of salespeople in their rush to expand stores.
While they may not be qualified or experienced, Pantaloon says that its new hires, especially housewives, could be good employees because of their natural expertise in home products and shopping.
Pantaloon is preparing a model under which early hires would then visit parks, temples and other such places to scout for more employees, including senior citizens.
“This concept is at a nascent stage,” says Kishore Biyani, Pantaloon’s managing director. “Women employees can bring a lot of depth and understanding in a store since they can relate to most products.”
Pantaloon is one of several such out-of-the-box ideas the retail industry is coming up to cope with its growth pangs.
Organized retail, which currently forms just 3% of India’s $320 billion retail industry, is growing at 8-9%, a year. The entry of large players, such as Reliance Industries Ltd and the Aditya Birla group, among many others, is starting to increase salaries with pockets of scarcity emerging in the sector.
The Retailers Association of India, which represents organized retailers, estimates that up to two million staff could be required in the retail industry. With middle and top management salaries growing at 30-40% annually amid a rush to recruit, the retail industry saw the second highest salary hikes, after the information technology sector, last year.
“Many housewives could have taken a break from their jobs for family reasons. The retail industry can now give them a new lease of professional life,” says Gibson Vedamani, chief executive of the association.
Other retailers are also looking in unusual places for staff.
Spinach, the Mumbai-based supermarket chain, has hired several sales staff from among pushcart vendors on Mumbai’s streets. Not all such efforts have, however, panned out.
Wills Lifestyle, the fashion retail arm of consumer products major ITC Ltd, had planned to hire wives of army personnel.
“Some years ago, we had wanted to hire army housewives for our front-end retail operations but we could not find any takers for it,” says Mukul Rastogi, vice-president, human resources, at the Lifestyle Retailing, business division of ITC.
“This set of workforce doesn’t respond to advertisements or post resumes,” says Ashok Reddy, managing director of TeamLease, a large, temporary staffing company. “So, candidate reference will be the best mode of hiring. The other challenge with this workforce would be mapping the available talent and training them to fit the retail executive profile.”
However, Monisha Advani, chief executive officer of EmmayHR, an international human resources consultancy firm, says solicitation of candidates in public places is a debatable model. According to her, such solicitations could backfire if they are construed as a violation of privacy.
Training first-time staff is one of the greatest challenges for retailers, particularly as they expand in to smaller towns. Pantaloon’s largest retail format, the hypermarket chain Big Bazaar, will grow to 100 stores, by the end of the year, from 45, in the beginning of the year. Many of these stores are in towns that don’t have very many organized retail outlets, if that, including places such as Ambala and Durgapur.
Human resource executives are taking to regularly visiting the families of some women employees to reassure them that the long work hours are not unusual and that the stores are safe work environments. Pantaloon also runs a week-long Gurukul workshop, which is like a finishing school, for its sales staff.