| Carapiet busy with his hobby at his shop. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
“Rogers!” The name rings out in a voice that could only be smiling.
In 1911, an Armenian by the name of Paul Carapiet opened a store in his wife’s maiden name. It started out in Waterloo Street, selling Remingtons and stationery. The shop was called G. Rogers.
Though no one may have heard of Genevieve Rogers, the British lady has lent her name to one of the few enduring brand names in Calcutta’s retail history. The voice that greets callers at 12, Dalhousie Square is that of Genevieve’s grandson, Cyril Carapiet.
A drum-set stands in a corner of the 91-year-old store. Every alternate morning, at 10 am, the 60-something Cyril sits at his drums to play as the cleaners are at work. Sometimes, customers are around as well.
Maybe it is the happiness that sells. Customers keep coming back to Rogers, one of the oldest Philips showrooms around. They pass by Cyril’s glass enclosure in the showroom, smile, wave and ask for a discount. He tries to be as accommodating as possible on all three counts.
“Everyday should be Christmas, shouldn’t it'” says Cyril. No cash discounts on products, but a freebie thrown in is quite acceptable for old friends. Having taken over the reins as a young man in 1964 after his father’s early death, he has many old friends.
Typewriters had never caught Cyril’s imagination. “I was always more interested in radios and radiograms.” So he ensured an early switch, which spelt success.
But things could have been so different. Cyril was set for studies abroad, and chartered secretaryship. There was no club in town where he didn’t play as part of a big band, starting when he was just 13, getting a window of opportunity when his father would set up sound systems at concerts. “But then I had to give everything up when my father died and become a businessman,” says Cyril, still smiling.
He has seen the industry change before him, as well. From times when the radio was the hottest selling item for the store’s predominantly Bengali clientele, to the days when the tape recorder ruled the racks to now, when CD players are finally catching on.
Cyril opened a branch at the Theatre Road-AJC Bose Road crossing as well, in 1964, though the original continues to record higher sales. While there are no immediate plans to diversify into other brands, he has taken on different products. With training in hearing healthcare, Cyril is an authorised dealer for hearing aids, examining patients and filling prescriptions.
The man who “longs to serve the country” has enjoyed his place on the podium. As president of the All India Radio and Electronics Association, Cyril met with L.K. Advani, during the Indira Gandhi regime. “There was an agitation in the electronics trade to abolish the Rs-15 licence fee imposed on radios,” he recounts. His plea worked, despite the now home minister's confusion at hearing the emissary’s name. “He couldn't figure out which part of the world I was from!” Cyril continues to be the head of the eastern India Philips Consumer Electronics Dealers association.
“Trust in Philips is Worldwide”, reads the sign that used to hang atop the gate of the store. It came down in 1994 when Rogers went through yet another round of renovations. But the trust in Rogers — and the man behind the counter — is not quite as easy to pull down.