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.
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