Where will you find South India’s largest departmental store? You might think Chennai, Bangalore or Hyderabad. But you’d be wrong. It’s Tiruppur, the unassuming town that used to be known as the jatti-banian place.
Spread over a sprawling 1.2 lakh sq ft with over three floors, Sri Kannan Departmental Store seems a bit out of place in Tiruppur, just a municipality of 27 sq kms with a population of less than 4 lakh. In its first year, it has outstripped the combined sales of three other units in Coimbatore, 55 km away. “The secret is the purchasing power of the people,” says store manager P. Thangathurai.
Roughly 2 lakh people from the surrounding area come to work in Tiruppur’s factories. “When they pick up their weekly wages it is bonanza out here,” Thangathurai happily confides. This along with an export tab of Rs.11,000 crores last year is leading people to call Tiruppur “Dollar Town.” During the suffocating quota regime of the 80s, manufacturers and exporters Tiruppur through sheer ingenuity brought in a personalized work culture that impressed foreign buyers.
R. Sivaram, Executive Director of Classic Polo revealed the secret to their success. “There is an unspoken rule here that the entire export community of this town should prosper together,” says Sivaram. The businessmen readily share the latest technology or machinery. But there are downsides. Pollution from the dyeing industry has rendered groundwater in and around town useless, and water has to be piped in at a price. Plus, skyrocketing land prices, a housing shortage and creaking infrastructure. But Tiruppur’s rich doesn’t seem to care.
The wealthy are so busy that they don’t even have time to party. Family social occasions seem to be the only time when they get to splash out. Hotelier EV Muthukaumara Ramalingam says, “Our halls used to be in demand for seminars organized by exporters and the industry. Now they’re booked year-round for family functions”. The women, however, complain of a lack of entertainment options. Sakthivel Ponnuswamy, a housewife, has tried to correct this by starting the town’s first cultural centre for ladies and children. “Now when the kids learn music here, their mothers can work-out in the fitness-centre.” There is, however, consensus about one constant — Tiruppur can now only continue to grow. “43 banks have set up 95 branches here with an eye on the growing export pie,” gushes N. Niranjana the AGM of SBI. Trust the bankers to smell a boom town.