Have you thanked the retail employees who made your shopping experience enjoyable? This is the question that has catalysed a movement to celebrate Retail Employees’ Day on 12th December. The team behind this initiative is led by B. S. Nagesh, Founder, TRRAIN (Trust for Retailers & Retail Associates of India). TRRAIN is a public charitable trust dedicated to empower the people in retail sector. In this Skill Talk, B. S. Nagesh takes us through the journey of TRRAIN and shares the story of the positive impact they have created through many innovative projects.
Giving back to the sector and creating awareness
I started TRRAIN in 2011, after my tenure as Managing Director, Shoppers Stop. This was a personal initiative not related to any company. We started small and today we are a team of about 20 people, striving to make a difference in the lives of retail employees whether they work in huge malls or small retailers like kirana stores. We have 43 million people working in Retail 200, with million Indians’ livelihoods are directly or indirectly dependent on retail.
This industry has given me so much, now I wish to give back through TRRAIN. Our vision is to be a thought leader and a catalyst in the retail sector. When 5 million people celebrate “Retail Employee’s Day” this year by saying thank you to the employees, it shows how we have been able to catalyse the thought process across countries. Retail Employees Day is being celebrated in India, Turkey, UAE and Philippines. I have not visited these countries; it is only an idea that got powered up and people are seeing benefit in it.
Creating the positive impact
We are keen on impacting both fronts – work and home – for the retail employees. This is mainly because happy employees create happy customers. When we go shopping, as a customer we always want to see a smiling employee and an unhappy employee can not be a smiling employee, especially after being on the floor, standing for hours!
The other concern is to bring sustainability to our not-for-profit objective and I want it to become an institution that survives longer than my life. We are investing in lot of technology and processes to ensure it is not people-dependent. And our motto is that whatever we do, it has to have an impact and it should be sustainable.
Four areas of impact in the retail sector
We have identified four areas, viz, Pride, Respect, Inclusion and Skilling and Development. First, the need for Pride is very important since India is growing at 7% to 8 % on consumption, and the last mile of consumption is retail, whether it is offline or online. Second, Respect is long overdue to these employees like retail sales and front-end customer executives, who are normally dropouts and come from underprivileged sections of society. Look at the way Ola and Uber has changed the way we treat our drivers. This is because of the way they have positioned the role of a driver as a professional with rating for service and other parameters. There’s an elevation of their role with respect. We begin to treat them differently.
Third is Inclusion; there are about 10 million retailers, which is, in fact, a large number! For every 120 people we have a retailer and nowhere in the world we have such a huge population of retailers. The fourth area pertains to Skills and Development in order to help them in career growth, social security, improve their livelihood etc.
For each area we took up a project; for inculcating Pride, we created Retail Employees’ Day. This is celebrated on 12th December it has shown tremendous benefit. Going by the impact study, a simple celebration to thank the employees has increased retention and sales quite significantly. This has really caught on. In the last four years UAE and Philippines have joined us.
For Respect we created an award called TRRAIN Retail Awards for Customer Service Excellence, we recognise them, we publish their stories of across the country by distributing an Images publication called “I Just Did It” them. We hold the awards events globally like in Rome, Toronto. There is a huge competition from which they are selected for Global Department Store Award. Gradually, we see the emergence of culture of celebrating customer service through recognition and rewards.
Inclusion is all about how we make people understand that retail is part of our society. India has 26 million disabled youth and less than one-third of them have jobs and retail has over 43 million people with more than 15% attrition so we marry these two opportunities by looking at the job roles. We have identified about 31 roles in retail which can be done by various kinds of people with disabilities. We started with one centre in Hyderabad in 2011 which has scaled up to 39 centres and 4000 PWD youth will graduate this year. About 62% have been employed in retail sector. We have two inclusion projects (TRRAINHer for women and the PwD project is called Pankh) .These initiatives have had a huge positive impact on their lives and society.
When it comes to Skills and Education, we had trained about 36000 for upskilling in various companies but we have stopped that now and we have moved to a Mobile App which takes care of various things like counselling , career planning, health, social security etc. The App is called TRRAINCircle. We have 20000 employees on the platform as of now and more will join.
The Government should realise that Retail is a very important industry. The voice of the industry doesn’t go anywhere at present (it doesn’t come under any industry sector as such). The challenge is to bring the second generation back into retail. In the current growing economy if we don’t support them – we will have a lopsided situation – they cannot survive. We have to uphold the traditional retail system.
Getting a break in informal retail
We started off with formal /modern retail as it’s easier to access but slowly it is percolating into informal areas. For example, Panda Retail in Bhubaneswar, Silai Ghar in Maharashtra, a jewellery retail Mumbai , all of them have joined our mission to celebrate the day for retail employees. This year for retail employee day, an HRIL, makers of STREAK and Wasmol an FMCG company is celebrating Retail Employees Day with more than 60000 kirana store employees. This is a remarkable beginning and shows great signs of future growth.
Skill development an training initiatives by government
It is a great initiative by the government that skilling has been identified as an important sector as it is a huge opportunity to build capacity in the retail sector. Today, most of us are aware that just getting a degree or just education is not enough and it is the right skill sets that will make a difference.
However, in terms of developing the right skills for retail and re-skilling and upskilling them, there is a lot that needs to be done. While every skilling program has to result in an outcome, such as enabling a livelihood, there is also a great need to re-skill employees in the current age of digital technologies. So, the mission will not be accomplished till we achieve these goals.
A big challenge is that, until there is pride, respect and dignity people will not be able to take up the roles. Trades like plumbing or carpentry or driving are not respected. In our country a driver sits separately to eat in a Dhaba or a restaurant where as in other countries the entire family shares a meal with him or her when on a holiday. At the same time, the private sector is not differentiating between skilled and not skilled employees. Both get the same salary. A formally skilled person has to be treated differently only then it will create aspirational value. This is another area that demands government’s attention.
Retail industry participation through apprenticeship
When compared with other industries, retail is growing very fast both in offline and online modes. A front-end employee gets Rs.10,000 per month and does not require much education. And, this sector has great scope to grow within the industry – both vertically and horizontally. I started my career as a shop manager and grown from there – retail sector provides this opportunity. In retail, skilling is more important than education. I feel apprenticeship can be a game changer if we can train youth by the age of 16 and help them get a job.