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Short-staffed
Make-up at a city mall

With about 35 malls and retail stores set to open in the next three years in the city, there is a frenzied hunt for manpower on the shop-floor

Not the CEOs and MDs, but the shop-floor staff, the first point of contact for the buyer, make or break a store.

Calcutta and its fringes will have 30 to 35 new malls or retail formats of various sizes in the next 36 months. They add up to 10 million sq ft of shop-floor space, says Abhijit Das, regional director of Trammell Crow Meghraj Property Consultants. Going by the thumb-rule of one person per 300 sq ft of retail space, we are looking at close to 35,000 new retail jobs in Calcutta by 2010, including in sales on the shop-floor, operations, logistics, facilities and supervisory and managerial capacities. Do we have a large enough resource pool'

Demand and supply

“Not really,” says Gairik Das, head retail management, IISWBM (Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management). “Although the mindset is changing, awareness is still low in Calcutta and we don’t always have the better students going in for retail. Besides, there’s an acute shortage of retail academic experts.” Das, who co-ordinates the retail management course at the city institute, predicts a demand for 50,000 to 100,000 trained store staff by 2012.

Vertical movement on the shop-floor is fast only till a point, the take-home at entry level could be as measly as Rs 2,500 and it’s a minimum eight-hour day. But the retail ranks still look inviting, and there have been instances of salary spiralling from Rs 60,000 at entry level (see box) to Rs 10 lakh per annum as a store manager in four years.

Planning ahead

The Pantaloons store at Kankurgachhi

All major retailers are creating their captive HR pool. Pantaloon Retail (India), which is planning to add 36,00,000 sq ft of shop-floor space in the east by June next year, would need around 7,000 employees in Calcutta alone and an equal number for indirect employment. “We have our internal training programme to groom staff. Besides, we have a tie-up with IISWBM,” says Sandeep Marwaha, head operations (east), Pantaloon Retail.

The company also has a training programme for housewives. “The idea is to replicate the summer jobs scenario in the West and create awareness,” says Kaushik Ghosh, deputy manager (HR), Pantaloon Retail (India).

RPG Enterprises — which introduced large-format music retail in Calcutta with its MusicWorld outlet on Park Street and is now bringing in Spencer’s Hypermart format alongside the Books & Beyond and Cellucom chains — has a large training outfit with 10 centres across the country. “We provide training for entry-level shop-floor staff at our city centre manned by 10 certified trainers,” says Nihar Ranjan Ghosh, senior VP (HR), RPG Retail Sector.

A Barista outlet in south Calcutta

Spencer’s will open the chain’s largest hypermarket in Calcutta, across 70,000 sq ft in South City Mall, and will take up 50,000 sq ft of space in Mani Square. It will need over 300 trained employees this year. “For the food and groceries segment, plus-two is enough, but in lifestyle retail spaces, we look for graduates,” Ghosh adds.

From clothes to kitchenware to coffee shops, careers in retail have evolved as specialised options and the industry is desperately trying to create trained manpower. “In Barista, the people behind the counter are responsible for the product quality as well as service standards. So the way we hire and train our Baristas (Italian for a person who serves in a coffee bar) is an intrinsic part of the brand experience,” says Rini Dutta, head (marketing), Barista Coffee Company.

Pay and poach

Growth in retail salary in India has been one of the highest among all sectors in the past two years. The average yearly increment is 18-22 per cent against the all-sector average of 13-14 per cent. But while some high-profile recruitments last year happened at the top-end of the salary spectrum, the earnings at the bottom have not boomed. And attrition remains a critical issue.

“The biggest poachers are the BPOs. Every second youngster leaving us joins a BPO,” says Ghosh of RPG.

At the projected growth rate, a manpower shortfall can’t be ruled out. Internationally modern retail is poised to grow at 35 per cent year-on-year for the next few years, predicts Kishore Biyani, CEO, Future Group, which owns Pantaloon Retail. In India, modern retail would reach 20 per cent of the entire shopping basket faster than anywhere else in the world. Training programmes will struggle to keep pace with this growth, feel experts. The retail industry in Calcutta is unsure if it can draw enough numbers and quality into the science of selling.

A few years back, the Café Coffee Day management had to fly in its start-up staff from Chennai and Bangalore since it couldn’t procure “the right kind of manpower in Calcutta” to begin brewing. Although the stigma that had stuck with a shop-floor job is not so strong any more, it’s still “very difficult to get people with good communication skills here”, says Madhusudan Binani, franchisee of brands like Allen Solly, Benetton and Adidas.

Job and joy

Inside a MusicWorld store

Initially, youngsters looked at working with a retailer more as a “stop-gap” measure. “Now there is more awareness, B-schools are providing courses in retail management,” says Harsimran Singh, customer care associate and chief people officer, Shopper’s Stop Limited.

Hirak Chakraborty, 29, is among those on the shop-floor by choice. “I love interacting with customers, helping them make an informed choice. Above all, I like the ambience and the music,” says the B.Com graduate who mans the international music racks of MusicWorld Park Street.

A mall operator has to focus on building customer loyalty, the details of running a property, and most importantly, balancing being a landlord with being a place-maker. Playing vintage Beatles in-store on a lazy Monday morning and resounding rock ’n’ roll on a busy Saturday afternoon to match the mall moods may not be enough. Mall operators need the right people.

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