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Modern retail: hard work but the sector's hottest

If you want to know where I got the latest ring tone on my mobile from, well it was from a category manager at Hypercity, writes Naomi Canton.
Hindustan Times | By Naomi Canton, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 13, 2008 12:25 AM IST

If you want to know where I got the latest ring tone on my mobile from, well it was from a category manager at Hypercity.

At the time I had Chak De India on my phone and contacts ringing me kept commenting that it was an odd tune for a British person to have. I couldn't be bothered to log on to the Vodafone website and change it, so just carried on with Chak De India.

Then I started ringing up people working in retail to investigate how hot the sector was.

I had a list of people to call: buyers, category managers, store operations managers, shelve stackers, cash associates and so on. What struck me first, as I went through my list, was how all the young people working in retail seemed to have cool ring tones.

Every single one of them had a funky, high energy retail tune rather than a dull ringing sound and each time I rang them, they put me in a really good mood.

Shakira is one of my favourite hits, so, by the time I got through to Raymond, who had it on his phone, I was in an exceptionally positive frame of mind. He showed me how to get Shakira on my phone too and hey presto, now I have it.

The ring tones seemed to be to be indicative of the vibrant, energetic, outgoing, chatty personality types that all these people that I met in retail were.

Modern retail is hard work: whether you are on the shop floor or in head office. On the shop floor the job involves physical work, staff are always rushing around and they are busy. It is not for self-important types who like ordering people around and doing no work themselves.

The same applies for head office. What I noticed was no sign of that stereotypical overstaffed unproductive 1980s Indian workplace where everyone hung out chatting, drinking tea and smoking. Modern retail is quite the opposite. Everyone is busy with work.

It is also a people industry so you've got be a personable, chatty type. If you're on the shop floor, then you are dealing with customers every second, so not having people skills means you won't last long.

Furthermore, working in head office is all about, as Raymond said, building relationships, say with vendors, other departments and so on. In fact retail per se is all about understanding consumer psychology.

In short: if you're not good with people and don't like hard work, you will never succeed in it.

It's not a glamorous or fashionable career like TV or animation is (except for maybe buying), but there are plenty of pluses. For starters you don't get bored…It's buzzy and that's what I like about it, and it's stimulating. In buying and merchandising you have to think about what product the customer wants, where they should be displayed and so on. Designers are crucial too: the layout and design of a store is carefully done in a way to lure customers in and get them to spend more.

Retail is very nascent in India right now and, compared to the west, stores here have a long way to go, before they will reach the same levels of customer service, window displays, stock control efficiency and product choice that the USA and Europe have.

But I reckon if Indians get to grips with retail in the same way they have with hospitality (Indians are famed across the world for their top notch service in five star hotels and restaurants) then this country could be a world leader in retail in the future.

I'm just waiting for a home-grown version of a Harrods or Selfridges to open in Mumbai.

What excites me more though is, that for people with no academic qualifications at all, retail offers them not just a fairly well-paid job (say Rs 6,000 per month) but also a career. If you are good there is nothing stopping you getting promoted to store manager, even if you never had the luxury of going to college. How egalitarian is that?

And for the MBAS out there retail offers exciting jobs too that can take them overseas and fully exploit their brainpower.

Once they have worked in the sector for a few years, they will have had exposure to cash flow, people management, consumer psychology: all the basic tenets of working in any business in fact.

Personally of all the careers profiled in the Hot New Careers series, I think modern retail is the hottest.

It is not just going to transform retail, but it is going to transform and modernise India. As MD of design agency Fitch David Blair pointed out to me, its very presence will stimulate the growth of infrastructure. When a supermarket opens, the roads in the vicinity improve, more shops arrive, the whole area gets done up.

It is a low margin sector and tehrefore labour is the biggest cost, so productivity of staff is closely monitored, which is a good thing.

One of the best things, though, is that it is going to make India more egalitarian. You know why? It is going to open up opportunities to the underclasses, who until now, have been largely ignored by Indian society. They will be able to not just get a job but also get a career - there is no reason why a person living in a slum or on the streets should not get an entry-level job in the sector.

CEO of Hypercity Andrew Levermore summed it all up quite nicely when he said: "In the future we will look at MBAs and 12th standard passes with equal interest: we will not be looking for qualifications but for entrepreneurial traits."

And retail does not tolerate pompous bosses who enjoy giving orders.

As Levermore went on: "In our organisation, if the CEO sees spinach on the floor he picks it up - he does not call a cleaner."

(Any comments please email me at

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