Power Sig­nals

Point of Purchase - - COLUMN -

nor­mal tip to a bell­boy at any three star ho­tels is not more than twenty ru­pees. Ro­han, who runs a suc­cess­ful injection mould­ing fac­tory in Vapi, and lives in the pros­per­ous suburb of Mum­bai, Versova, in­sists on nothing less than a hun­dred ru­pees the minute his bags are de­liv­ered to the room. This, he claims, will en­sure that he will get the best pos­si­ble ser­vice for the rest of his stay there. Ro­han doesn’t buy his shirts from the chain stores in the mall, pre­fer­ring in­stead to go to Mehra & Sons, cloth­iers fa­mous in the busi­ness district. He goes only in the evening, when he knows the owner of the store will be avail­able to at­tend to him. This is the per­sonal touch that Ro­han wants and likes. Mr. Mehra usu­ally takes Ro­han to his own cabin at the back of the shop and asks the sales­man to bring the shirts there. Over con­ver­sa­tion on top­ics of mu­tual in­ter­est like the over­all busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and ‘mar­ket mood’, and of course the manda­tory cup of tea, Mr. Mehra per­son­ally rec­om­mends to Ro­han the shirts that will suit him, tak­ing spe­cial care to point out the ‘lat­est’ de­signs. As a result, Ro­han ends up buy­ing more than he needs, but he doesn’t mind. He def­i­nitely prefers this at­ten­tion to the anonymity of a chain store. In fact Ro­han’s in­stinct is to dis­trust anonymity. He be­lieves that no priv­i­lege can be taken for granted, and so looks at the ex­tra money that he spends on get­ting ser­vices as an in­vest­ment. To him, all ex­tra at­ten­tion is wel­come. He de­rives power out of be­ing served out of turn wher­ever he goes, whether at a restau­rant, his club or the shirt store. He looks at ev­ery trans­ac­tion as a chal­lenge that he has to win, and in­deed, life for Ro­han in our coun­try is a con­tin­u­ous chal­lenge. The Ro­hans of In­dia daily grap­ple with the has­sles of li­cense raj, com­plex taxes and rules, er­ratic elec­tric­ity sup­ply, mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices, hir­ing and re­tain­ing good peo­ple, deal­ing with lo­cal petty politi­cians, and many other trou­ble­some is­sues on an al­most daily ba­sis. ‘Jugaad’, that quin­tes­sen­tial In­dian way of deal­ing with is­sues and still emerg­ing a win­ner, is prac­ti­cally a life-skill for a busi­ness­man like Ro­han. And this method of han­dling re­la­tion­ships is nat­u­rally car­ried over to his per­sonal life, and can be seen in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion that he con­fronts. The traf­fic cop who pulls him up for a vi­o­la­tion, the agent who gets him an out-of-turn train ticket, the tout who gets him ‘spe­cial’ dar­shan at the tem­ple, all th­ese are en­ti­ties who are able to get for Ro­han some­thing that he val­ues all the time, spe­cial treat­ment. Not for him any peace­ful wait­ing in queues where ev­ery­one is treated the same. He prefers to slip a ten­ner in some­one’s pocket to en­sure that he gets the right kind of ‘ser­vice’. On the other hand, San­jay, a whitecol­lared busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive and Ro­han’s neigh­bour, is mostly pro­tected from the vi­cis­si­tudes of the In­dian busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. He and oth­ers of his ilk, whether in gov­ern­ment ser­vice, in the cor­po­rate sec­tor or in academia, do not have to con­front the un­or­ga­nized sec­tor woes in their pro­fes­sional lives. For them, most trans­ac­tions are based on rule of law. The of­fice opens at a cer­tain hour, the staff is treated by set rules, the ef­fect of poor in­fra­struc­ture is hardly felt since there is an en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion ma­chin­ery tak­ing care of all th­ese has­sles. Peo­ple like San­jay be­lieve that the en­vi­ron­ment in In­dia is friendly, demo­cratic and law­ful. San­jay’s re­al­ity, in fact, is to­tally dif­fer­ent from Ro­han’s.

Our

mod­ern

de­part­ment

stores, hy­per­mar­kets and malls are de­signed around San­jay’s re­al­ity. They of­fer anonymity to their cus­tomers, treat ev­ery­one the same and of­fer no spe­cial ser­vices to their cus­tomers, how­ever rich or reg­u­lar they might be. They are demo­cratic and com­pletely le­gal with no room for ex­tra-ju­di­cial ma­neu­ver­ing. Peo­ple like San­jay, who are used to pre­cisely such a set-up in their work­place, find such a shop­ping en­vi­ron­ment a god­send. No longer do they have to deal with the va­garies of in­di­vid­ual shop­keep­ers, or con­front the ag­gres­sive­ness of cus­tomers who are not ‘like them’. They are happy to se­lect mer­chan­dise pri­vately, without any hu­man in­ter­fer­ence. They feel se­cure wher­ever there is no pos­si­bil­ity of ma­neu­ver­ing. This be­ing a sign of moder­nity, they em­brace it en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. How­ever, San­jay and his ‘white col­lared’ ilk form only twenty per­cent of In­dia’s con­sum­ing class. The rest of the shop­pers con­sist of the Ro­hans of this world, small and medium busi­ness­men or em­ploy­ees of small and medium busi­nesses. There­fore, in or­der to truly have an impact in the re­tail sec­tor, mod­ern stores need the pa­tron­age of the ‘gold-col­lared’ peo­ple, if that’s how we re­fer to the self-em­ployed. And for this per­haps they can start with rec­og­niz­ing the ‘power sig­nals’ that peo­ple like Ro­han send out. There are sev­eral of th­ese if one knows where to look. Ro­han will, for in­stance, f lash a wad of notes in­stead of pay­ing with credit card. He will ac­tively seek out staff and be­friend them, and ex­pect to be served. He will check if there is room for price ne­go­ti­a­tion of a prod­uct. If mod­ern re­tail rec­og­nizes that the pur­chas­ing power of a ‘gold-col­lared’ fam­ily is higher than its whitecol­lared neigh­bour, the higher ef­fort to recog­nise power-sig­nals will be Reach the au­thor Mr. Damodar Mall on Twit­ter, his Twit­ter han­dle is - @damodar­mall

Damodar Mall Direc­tor - Food Strat­egy

Fu­ture Group

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