Retail jobs attain respectability amid rush for branded stores


August 30, 2007

With the sector expected to create at least 2mn direct jobs in 5 years, there is a rash of grooming courses.

Mint (partner to the Wall Street Journal), New Delhi, August 30, 2007

When Shoppers’ Stop Ltd was planning to roll out its first department store in Mumbai in 1991, less than 10 candidates showed up for a job advertisement for a dozen openings. One of the front-end employees quit soon after as his fiancée’s family objected to their would be son-in-law being a store associate. “So he decided to change (jobs) because he wanted to marry the girl,” says B.S. Nagesh, managing director of Shoppers’ Stop that currently runs 22 department stores and is India’s second biggest listed retail firm.

Today, thousands of job seekers troop to the offices of Nagesh’s company, and other modern retailers in many Indian cities every month. Most of the jobs on offer are for front-end positions.

As several companies roll out hundreds of branded stores, retailers say they have turned the corner in their ability to make the sector respectable from the employment point of view. “Acceptability has gone up like anything…nobody raises an eyebrow when you say you work for a retail store now,” Nagesh says.

Some people say that thanks to companies such as Shoppers’ Stop and India’s largest listed retailer Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, retail jobs have gained some sort of acceptability in the last decade.

It took a while for Shoppers’ Stop to gain the visibility, Pantaloon was not considered a great place to work at,” says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy firm. “The whole visibility of retail itself and the brands and the large retailers has been written about and talked about so much, that itself has brought a lot of desirability to the sector,” he adds.

In recent years, several large Indian companies, including Reliance Industries Ltd, the Aditya Birla Group, Bharti Enterprises, and Wadia Group, among others, have lined up ambitious multi-billion dollar plans to open supermarkets and hypermarkets across the country in the coming years.

In India, retail jobs were once synonymous with sales staff and delivery boys that toiled at millions of small shops, known as kirana stores that dot every nook and corner of India. Even today, modern retailers control only 3% of India’s $300 billion annual retail business, but their share is expected to swell 20% in the next eight years.

Many parents are beginning to encourage their sons and daughters to look for a career in retail to cash in on the expected boom. New Delhi stockbroker Prem Prakash Saluja asked his 20-year-old daughter, Kanika, to do a retail management course after finishing her graduation later this year in economics from Delhi University.

“I felt that India will have the same (kind of) retail industry as Europe and America and I told her this sector will grow very fast,” says the 44-year-old Saluja. “Earlier, retail jobs were only salesman and it was unorganized and that’s why it was considered low-profile…in the coming years, it will be a very respectable job and will get big money,” he adds.

Market watchers say the industry will create more than two million direct jobs in the next three-five years and several institutes, government agencies and non-profit groups have jumped in to provide weeks- to years-long retail courses to fill the gap.

Dutta of Third Eyesight says organized retail in the country is currently at the same stage technology outsourcing was five years ago. India’s IT and back-office companies have redefined the country’s image globally and created more than a million jobs over the last several years.

Even just saying (some one is) working in a software company raises the platform (of respectability),” Dutta says. India’s retail sector has a long way to go to reach that stage, yet. “Just saying I am in retail doesn’t do that,” adds Dutta.

Nagesh of Shoppers’ Stop says that although the sector is attracting a lot of interest, in the “social ladder, the hierarchy of the role and the job and the designation… it’s (a retail job) still in the bottom three…but it is changing very fast.”

Meanwhile, Saluja is asking his clients to invest in retail companies. “In 1991, I advised a lot of my friends to buy shares of technology companies and they made crores,” he says. “Now, I recommend them to buy retail sharesand if they can hold it for four-five years, it (the prices) will at least go up by eight to ten times.”