Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Gourmet retailing and Ramesh

Yesterday while going back from office I dropped into the Godrej Nature's Basket store on Warden Road (a tony neighborhood of Mumbai, for those not familiar with Mumbai). This store had opened maybe a couple of years back (then called Godrej Nature Fresh) and was popular in the locality. On Saturday afternoons I used to drop in to pick up veggies on my way back home. Then in the last few months I had not had the time to go there and then they stopped doing home deliveries as well. Yesterday I was in for a big surprise. The store had undergone a massive changeover. Welcome to gourmet retailing.

It was brighter and larger (don't ask me how because it is still the same place). What surprised me was the stocks on the shelves - gourmet food and imported stuff like the kind you rarely find on Indian store shelves. From the Swiss cheeses (sorry, no aamchi paneer), to French wines to the best cold cuts and organic food - it was all there. And yes, some sinful Haagen-Dazs frozen desserts. The price would be a few months salary for most of our countrymen. But this is the heart of one of the wealthiest localities of Mumbai. Of the old store, the only familiar stuff were the vegetables and fruits. At 8:30 PM there was a fair sprinkling of people shopping, including a few foreigners from the neighborhood.

Apparently the makeover has happened in the last one month. And according to one of the staff members, the sales have gone up since then. The staff were smartly dressed in an all black outfit. I got talking to a couple of them - lets call them Ramesh and Himanshu. Ramesh is from Asansol (no don't reach out for the map of India; It is a district in West Bengal and known for its steel industry at one point of time). Ramesh is a graduate, his father used to work in a local factory and his brother has a small business there. He came to Mumbai when a few of his friends studying engineering in Mumbai called him over and asked him to apply for a one-year course in Retail Management. Ramesh was enthusiastic and rattled off his course subjects like sourcing, visual merchandising etc. Himanshu is also a graduate from the Mumbai University and joined Godrej Retail. They were smart, very enthusiastic about their jobs and pleasant to talk to. They travel really long distances to get to their work and work long hours (the store clsoes at 10:30 PM).

Even as I came out of the shop, I had informed a few friends about the makeover and urged them to lighten their pockets by visiting the store. I had spent a pleasant half an hour picking up stuff that I didn't really want to but could not resist. I mean for how long can you resist strawberry cheese cake from Haagen-Dazs? Well, I can't for long.

But more importantly this also set me thinking. Ramesh and Himanshu are probably not bright enough to have gone into an engineering school or a career in the IT industry or become doctor or CAs. Their schooling and background means they do not speak polished English that would have got them into a call centre job. But they are otherwise bright, hard working, willing to learn and are very enthusiastic. Organized retailing is giving them the opportunity. They are looking to become store managers and supervisors very soon and I have no doubt they will and that too sooner rather than later.

And this is a good enough reason to cheer organized retailing. It is creating job opportunities for youngsters where none existed. Even though the jobs are not in millions, but they are already running into thousands. And that is why irrespective of what the comrades in the Left parties say, organized retailing should be encouraged - whether it is Vishal Retail or Wal Mart or Food Bazaar or Reliance Fresh or gourmet retailing like Godrej Nature's Basket.