The call of the mall has never been as beguiling as it is now. Be it Mumbai, Delhi or Muzaffarpur, more and more Indians are spending their time and money in manicured, multi-product malls. We speak to the people behind this boom, the senior executives and floor staff whose job it is to make the whole retail experience useful, pleasurable and something we can’t seem to get enough of.
Govind Shrikhande, 50
Customer care associate and managing director, Shoppers Stop Ltd, Mumbai
This managing director is a people watcher. He tries to spend at least one day a week on the shop floor, either at one of the 34 Shoppers Stop stores in the country, or at a competitor’s store. “There is a lot to be learnt by watching the dynamics of people shop. Often you don’t even need to talk to the customer to know what they are thinking; it’s just obvious in the way they touch and handle a fabric or how they match a trouser with a shirt or shoes. Retail purchase in India is not an individual activity; people typically shop in groups,” says Shrikhande.
People watcher: There’s a lot to be learnt from seeing the way people shop, says Shrikhande.
How he got here: Shrikhande holds a bachelor’s degree in textiles from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), Mumbai. After an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune, he joined Mafatlal Industries in Mumbai, handling products and merchandise. Three years later, in 1988, Shrikhande moved to Arvind Mills, where he handled the denim division as well as marketing activities, with retailers selling Arvind products. In 1994, he joined Bombay Dyeing. “I always had a strong product base right from my Mafatlal days. At Arvind, I was directly involved in marketing in the brand launch of Arrow shirts and the seven years at Bombay Dyeing gave me the experience of managing retail stores,” says Shrikhande, who joined Shoppers Stop in 2001 as vice-president of buying and merchandising.
Daily duty: “Once I am at work by 9.45am, my cellphone is on silent and I concentrate on the meetings of the day. Everyone wants your time; from customers, merchandisers, designers, product managers, sales, industry bodies like the Clothing Manufacturers Association Of India (CMAI) want your attention,” says Shrikhande, who handles emails during his morning commute.
He eats with his team at the corporate office. This gives him a chance to catch up on office gossip and chit-chat—“it’s a sort of pressure release too.” When in Mumbai, he tries to wrap up the workday by 7.15pm so he can get home for dinner with his wife and two teenage children, Sharvari and Ajinkya.
He travels 8-10 days a month. Some of this is to visit Shoppers Stop stores in other cities, sometimes, stores abroad. When Srikhande visits a Shoppers Stop store, he tries to be there by 10.45am, which is the time the Shoppers Stop corporate anthem is played and sung at the store. He then meets the staff. “This interaction is important; you get a feel of the store, of the staff.”
What I love most about my job: Retail is cutting edge, where all the latest developments are taking place; it’s the only sector where you can actually watch the customer consume your product.
Challenges: Unlike many businesses, retail is 24x7. Stores are open 365 days. There is a potential for things to go wrong every single day of the year, whether in terms of staffing, customer issues or just physical problems in the store. So you have to be prepared all the time.
Success mantra: Keeping abreast of the latest trends by visiting international stores such as Selfridges, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales, and observing the product mix as well as new styles. Monitoring fashion trends on websites such as Wgsn.com, sitting in on customer-focus group discussions, where 8-10 customers sit around a table and chat about their responses to products.
Power in retail is all about interacting with customers and being flexible and innovative in solving their problems.
Sanity saver: Tinkering with his favourite gadgets—the iPad and iPhone.
Money matters: Compensation in retail can go up to Rs 1 crore a year at the highest levels.
Sumit Jhunjhunwala, 31
Deputy general manager, western region, Reebok, Mumbai
Working as a marketing professional for a sports brand sounds cool. Sumit Jhunjhunwala, dressed in Reebok shoes, jeans and a striped shirt, certainly looks the part. We met at the recent Indian Fashion Forum at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Centre in Powai. This is where the bigwigs of high street brands were clustered to discuss how they could get the Indian consumer to part with a greater share of his wallet, and Jhunjhunwala, as the representative of Reebok, was soaking up feedback on the latest trends in fashion retail.
Growing sector: There’s a lot of firefighting every day, says Jhunjhunwala.
How he got here: After an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, New Delhi, Jhunjhunwala began his career as brand manager, marketing, with Seagram India Pvt. Ltd. In 2005, he joined Reebok as area sales manager and has been there since.
Daily duty: The days that Jhunjhunwala is in Mumbai, he uses his 45-minute commute from his Goregaon home to his Andheri office to keep in touch with what is happening by reading newspapers and magazines.
He starts the workday by scanning the sales figures for the top 50 stores in the western region. “Retail is a sector that is really growing right now, so there is, typically, a daily list of things to be done and a lot of firefighting,” he says. Things to do may include proposals for new high street stores to be prepared and sent to the Reebok head office for approval, or follow-ups on products and, of course, sales analysis.
Then there are the meetings—these are mostly with the franchisees. “All our stores are franchisee stores; the franchisees are the pillar of our business, so we have a high level of interaction with them.” This includes sitting in on recruitment interviews for the franchisee floor staff (“I look for attitude and presentation. Will the candidate have an aptitude to deal with customers? He has to be the link between the customer, the franchisee and the company, does he have the right attitude for that?”). And then there are discussions on products, and store issues such as display, with the franchisees.
Jhunjhunwala spends 10-12 days in a month travelling to places such as Pune, Nagpur, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara.
What I love most about my job: “The fact that you are the master of your region; you decide the business in your region and how you want to lead that region. Reebok gives you a lot of freedom in that, that’s the reason I’ve stuck to retail and to Reebok.”
Challenges: Choosing the right store location—especially after the retail meltdown in 2008-09, it’s very important to choose the right spot. Also, staffing. There are no specific schools or colleges that train people for retail, so it is important to pick the right kind of staff that can be trained on the job.
Success mantra: An eye for detail. The ability to be able to interpret figures. A sales head should be able to figure out why a certain store is not doing well from the data available—are fewer people walking in, or is it that once they walk in they don’t really buy anything, or that their purchases are smaller than average? And how to remedy that.
Most important, however, is managing and motivating a large team.
Sanity saver: Watching movies—one every weekend.
Money matters: Rs 20-30 lakh per annum.
Sunny Devatwal, 27
Store manager, Landmark bookstore, Mumbai
Sunny Devatwal works at my favourite haunt—the Landmark bookstore at Infinity Mall, Andheri. Customers and readers mill around us, leaning against bookshelves or perched on the sofa bench. Devatwal, 27, has done what most shop and sales assistants dream of—he has made the leap from shop assistant to store manager. “It wasn’t easy. I struggled a lot. Having product knowledge about books and merchandising is very different from managing a store,” says the soft-spoken young man, who attributes his rise to hard work, good luck and to his studying subjects such as human resources and operations for his part-time MBA at Wellingkar College. He will complete the course this year.
Up the ladder: Soothing irate customers is a challenge, says Devatwal.
How he got here: Devatwal’s career began in Jeevandeep Publications (a publisher of textbooks) in Mumbai, where he helped manage deliveries and supplies. At the time, Devatwal was still in junior college at Wilson College, but his family needed money, so he worked his way through junior college. He joined Oxford Bookstore as a customer sales executive in 2005, going on to become senior sales executive. From there to junior merchandiser and then senior merchandiser, before joining Landmark Books Pvt. Ltd in 2010 as merchandiser. Devatwal moved up in six months to take over as store manger at the Infinity mall store.
Daily duty: Devatwal, who lives with his parents and elder sister at Churchgate, takes the 8.36am Borivali local train to work every day.
Once at the store, there is a list of daily checks to run through—the computer systems should be up and working, the air conditioning should be okay, and the merchandise displays should be perfect. There are 45 employees at the store, including cashiers, and it is Devatwal’s job to ensure every department is properly staffed. At the daily meeting, store issues such as customer complaints, problems in supplies, sales targets, etc., are discussed.
The store opens at 11am and Devatwal is on the floor, supervising the toys, stationery and books sections, and sometimes even covering for an absent cashier at the cash desk. “It’s important to sit in cash, as you are in direct touch with the customer, you can see what items are selling and if there are any problems with the customer,” says Devatwal, who finds it easy to direct his staff because he has personally worked in all these areas of the store.
What I love most about my job: “The fact that you’re surrounded by books. Even though I didn’t like books in school and college, I marvel today at the kind of ideas writers have and the books they are able to write.” Now he likes reading self-help books.
Challenges: Soothing irate customers. Their complaints may be about the air conditioning (too low or too high), the music (too loud or too soft) or about books that are not available. “Sometimes we don’t know what to say. We don’t have any option but to keep saying ‘yes’ and then figure out a way to solve the problem. But this is a part of retail and we can do it.”
Success mantra: “Being able to make the shift from product knowledge to commanding an entire store, working hard at merchandising, operations, people management. I spend most of my weekends studying (for the part-time MBA). The MBA gives me a theoretical knowledge of operations, HR and marketing which I can use to become a better manager,” says Devatwal.
Sanity saver: Playing cricket. But now, with work and studying for his MBA, there’s not much time for that any more.
Money matters: Rs 3-5 lakh per annum.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at businessoflife @livemint.com
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
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