In conversation with B.S. Nagesh, Founder, TRRAIN, Vice Chairman and Non–Executive Director of Shoppers Stop Limited has been a role model to the Indian Retail Industry and has served it for over 30 years. In the year 2011, he set up a Public Charitable Trust called TRRAIN (Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India) and a Section 25 company called TRRAIN Foundation with the objectives of developing skills of abled and disabled people in retail, create pride as well as respect for retailers and retail associates and provide healthcare and social security solutions for them.
Q. Give us a brief overview of TRRAIN and your association with it?
TRRAIN is part of a journey, I undertook, in order to give back to the retail industry. The industry has given me so much, I highly doubt I will be able to give back enough, but this is an attempt. It is also purely out of my personal belief that I call the “25 years of learning, 25 years of earning and 25 years of returning” and of course, after that another 25 years of fun. When I turned fifty, I actively stepped out of the day-to-day operations at Shopper’s Stop to start TRRAIN with a very simple vision to empower people in Retail. This country has thirty three million people who work in retail, eight million kiraanas, two million people who earn, work in modern retail. This is an attempt to impact their life and make a difference to their work in some small way.
Q. What are the key initiatives of TRRAIN?
We have picked up six areas to primarily work on. They are, Pride, Respect, Inclusion, Skilling, Health and Social Security. We are initially focusing on the first four of these initiatives. Pride – for which we have created a day called ‘Retail Employees Day’ which falls on the 12th of December. Last year about two million people in India celebrated Retail Employees Day and it is now gradually turning global. We had two million people in Turkey too, who celebrated. Under Respect – we have started the “TRRAIN Retail Awards” where we honor customer service excellence, by the front-end associates. Last year we had participants who came in from almost 116 cities in India. We selected the best three associates in the country and gave them the opportunity to go to Dubai and they were shown international retail. It has also become global. This year for the first time in the history of the retail, twenty one countries participated in Rome and we selected the best sales associate in the world, the winner was from KaDeWe Germany, the runners up were from Selfridge’s London and second runners up from Macy’s in US. Inclusion – for this we started a project we call ‘Pankh’. Here we get disabled youth, who are mostly from an underprivileged environment into our centers, train them and get them jobs. Our dream is to take it over to hundred centers over the next five years so that we can have 10,000 disabled youth get jobs. Sixty eight companies so far have signed up. Our fourth project is around Skilling, which we enable via TRRAIN Aptech where we teach English, Personality Development, Ethics and Values, that come for one dollar a class which is sixty rupees a class, and in about 18 to 20 classes you finish the course. Last year we trained 3000 youths in the country. This year our objective is to reach approximately 5000 youths.
Q. What are the key changes that you see in the landscape that will disrupt the future of retail?
Everything is getting disrupted. Anybody in retail, who thinks that his model of yesterday is going to be successful tomorrow, is fooling himself. Ten years ago it was pretty evident that online retail will be a big thing, but we still slept over it. In the past year, online retail has taken off with a bang and is likely to become big. We will soon see every retailer, whether offline or online turning Omni Channel, because that’s the best way forward.
Q. Skill development has been at the forefront of the present government. What is the TRRAIN road map in this respect?
We have primarily two agendas and both these are pretty much aligned. As mentioned earlier Pankh, is focusing on skill development for the disabled and the TRRAIN Aptech program is focused on skill development for the abled. The government has now set up a separate skill council for the disabled, and that is playing a major role, because now you can create a huge amount of sensitization for the industry to adopt people with disabilities. So TRRAIN’s road map is very clear. In the next four to five years’ time we want to build the capacity to train and skill ten thousand disabled youths, ten thousand youths that are already working in retail and ten thousand of them who can actually get skilled and join retail.
As we further our skill development mandate in the physical realm, we also will create apps. Participation, assessment & development all will happen on that app. Thus making sure trainings are not one-sided.
Q. What are the major changes seen, in recent years in respect to retail businesses? How has TRRAIN assisted in addressing the same?
As far as TRRAIN is concerned, we have been focusing on capability building at the front end, in the last three years, we have worked with about 68 to 70 organizations and helped them train their youth, train the retail employees to deliver better customer service. We have helped them become more inclusive. Through our Retail Employees Day program we have helped them recognize the importance of teams, through our awards helped them understand the importance of excellence in Customer Service. So in our own way, we have probably initiated a journey for the retailors to help their employees and customers get better service.
Q. What is the one major challenge that needs to be addressed to further improve the Indian Retail Sector?
There are many challenges, but if I had to pin point one it would be – capability building. How can you make employees who work from the front as well as the top more capable? How can we improve their competency for them to take up a larger role? For example if there is a CEO of very successful retail company that has no interest or inclination in technology or what’s happening around the world, he might stagnate and remain unsuccessful. So to me the single biggest element to improve is building capability. In India building capacity is not so difficult because it is still an emerging market. Money can buy properties, money can lease properties, and money can buy you technology but without having people who can implement technology or run the business you actually can’t do anything.
Q. What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
If you look at my last twenty to thirty years I’ve had good days, and bad, but never a boring one. So to me, the rewarding part of my job is that no matter what I’m doing I ensure I enjoy it thoroughly. Currently if you look at my journey, it is all about looking at the output. To me when I look at 40 lakh people celebrating Retail Employee’s Day, it’s a refreshing feeling. When we look at the positive impact the organization has created by enabling a disabled youth in getting trained and being employed and being declared as the best associate that is important. My kick is on the output and the fact that somebodies life is changing and I may have contributed in some small way.
(Interviewed by Dr. Srini.R.Srinivasan, Associate Professor at Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS), University of Mumbai, for Uber Content)