Sure Footed – The Story of Sarvodaya

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Change is the name of the game and people who accept this are the ones who can move ahead in times of competition.  Chetan Sangoi, a strict believer of this philosophy today proudly has his 2000sq.ft store at  Dadar running successfully for almost a decade now.  Ask him what has made him successful and pat comes the reply, “Adapt yourself to the changing market needs.”

Had  Chetan Sangoi not mustered the courage to bid adieu to his garment shop and merge that shop with his small time neighborhood banaya shop; today Sarvadoya would not have been what it is – a modern retail trade outlet. “It was Kishore Biyani’s Big Bazaar that gave me food for thought. There was no looking back then.” As Sangoi’s story goes; the family had two shops adjacent to each other – one selling pulses and other handful of FMCG products in the category of daily needs and then there was a garment shop which was looked after by Sangoi. In 2002 when the doors of Big Bazaar opened at Phoenix Mills which was in proximity to Sangoi’s store, it affected his business to some extent. Curiosity of what Big Bazaar was all about led Sangoi and his family to visit the store one Sunday. To their surprise they saw a lot many of their customers there and what amazed them was that their customers were there with their entire family. Says Sangoi, “That was the trigger point for me. I immediately realized that this format was here to stay and if we wanted to survive and also make money, there was no other option but to adopt practices of modern trade – not only for our business to grow but also for our customers to shop in a modern environment.”

Sangoi immediately set out to re-design his business operation and thought of closing his garment shop only to merge both the shops and open one big shop in lines of a self-service store. Racks were put in place, stocking was done, cash counters were put in place and other things similar to that of a modern store were decided upon. But as Sangoi shares, “Things weren’t easy as I thought they would be. The problem with people like us who have been in this business of traditional trade is that we think we know it all. The attitude we carry is – Humko kaun sikhayga. But the reality is different. It took us a lot of time to understand, learn, implement and execute the nitty-gritty of modern trade. I learnt it gradually that there is detail in retail. The biggest challenge though remained of convincing my father and uncles to let go off the reigns and allow me to handle the business. And this remains the biggest challenge for many others in my business community. The older generation is extremely skeptical of passing on the power to the younger generation. And this attitude of theirs often de-motivates the younger heirs to expand the business as per the changing market dynamics.”

Coming back to the history of Sarvodaya, the store began its operation in the traditional format way back in 1972. When they changed their format in 2002, for the first six months they carried on based on the trial and error method but within the first six months, Sangoi came across S.C Mishra who was a private consultant to a few of the traditional retail stores which had converted their stores to a modern format. Says Sangoi, “I had attended a few seminars where he used to be invited as the speaker. Through my business associates I then got in touch with him and invited him to my store. The day he came in, the first thing he told me was that my store would not succeed and I would not have my customers returning. I tried reasoning out with him that why not? It had all elements of modern trade. The point he brought to my notice was the ramp space between the opposite racks which was just about 3 feet. He explained that the minimum requirement was 5 feet. He explained to me the logic and science behind it and similarly many such more lessons were shared.” Sangoi was also an avid reader and observer. In all the international visits that he undertook, he made sure to carry back all the learnings’ back home and implement the best of it to this store.

Sangai feels that as against the common perception, manpower isn’t really an issue for shopkeepers like him who want to convert their stores. As he says, “In fact it is more difficult to source for manpower for a traditional format. People don’t really like being called ‘bhaiya’ but change the format of the shop, have uniforms for the staff, racks and air-conditioning at the store and the salesperson are automatically treated differently. This becomes a motivational factor for manpower to work at our stores. All that is needed then is training. I have staff at my store that has not even completed their primary education. They can just recognize alphabets. Based on their knowledge of recognizing alphabets and colors, I have trained them in stocking and I make it a point to rotate their duties in different categories so that they have holistic knowledge of each and every category to guide my customers’ right. In retail, for the floor staff, everything is monotonous after sometime. Challenge is to kill the monotony. This rotation keeps them charged up in a way.”

Sangoi has a monthly footfall of about 40,000 customers. Shoplifting was an issue initially but then through their observation they realized that customers would shop lift small ticket items but majority of the shop-lifting was done by the staff. Systems were out in place then and today there is dismissible amount of shrinkage that he sees at his store.

Sharing lessons from his experience book over the years; Sangoi feels that retail in India is growing and if the small neighborhood stores gear themselves up, then FDI is no reason to worry. He advocates the importance of manpower training and specially because there are no institutes which would extend manpower training for the front end / floor staff. Talking about the change in market and consumer dynamics, he says, “Over the years consumption patterns have gone through a sea of change. A lot many newer categories have developed – like ready-to-eat, health food etc. But then a lot of work still needs to be done in this area. We need to work towards upgrading our consumption pattern. Products which carry aspirational value need to be put before the customer in a way that he gets used to them and makes them a part of his daily life – e.g. hand-wash, ketchup etc.”

In his parting note, Sangoi wishes to convey to the FMCG brands to consider stores like his as part of the modern retail trade. He says, “In a way we are in full sense modern retail formats. I do agree that we cannot be put in the league of the Big Bazaar’s, Reliance Super, More etc but we too offer our customers ease of self-service, check-out, air-conditioning etc. Why then are we being singled out when it comes to sharing various consumer offers with us?” A question perhaps if answered can in a way help change the face of retail in India!

–          Zainab Morbiwala

penned this for STOrai Nov – Dec 2012

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