The Counter View

'WHEN I CAN CONVINCE A CUSTOMER, IT FEELS GOOD'

RUPESH JADHAV I 27

MUMBAI

RUPESH ATMARAM Jadhav works at the Adidas showroom in Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel, Mumbai. He is thankful for his job that arrived at a time when his computer science diploma course wasn't fetching him a decent income. "I was only getting jobs that offered not more than Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000. I had hoped my diploma would help me get at least Rs 10,000," he says with the determined tone of being cheated.

Growing up in Virar and Kandivali, Jadhav attended government schools. He believed engineering was the best option to get a job, but wasn't interested in academics.

He took up science in Class XII because of family pressure, but failed his exams and finally opted for arts through an open university.

His father, a peon at the Central Bank of India, had died, and his eldest brother replaced him at the job. Jadhav started work at a xerox shop in Vasai, earning Rs 1,500 a month. Many jobs and a failed lottery business made him realise he'd need a diploma to enter the job market. Mushrooming malls in the city was a cue to plunge into retail.

When Jadhav started, four years ago, he got a salary of Rs 5,000. He has worked his way up to earn Rs 20,000- Rs 25,000 a month.

Peak sale seasons commissions come close to Rs 37,000. His salary depends on his performances, and is not always a fixed monthly sum.

For someone with below-average academic merit, he believes there is no better place than sales in the retail industry. "I have tried different options, but nothing could undo my academic failings. This is the best I could have got," he says.

For Jadhav, this meant honing his communication skills, even if his English isn't perfect. An orientation with Adidas has equipped him with product and technical know-how, essential to make a pitch, making him part of a group of specially trained salespeople called Aditechi. This methodical approach makes him feel like a professional, and not "just" a salesman. "Many of our products require technical explanations. When I can convince a customer to buy a product, it feels very good," he says.

He married his girlfriend last month and is proud that he could contribute Rs 2.5 lakh to the wedding expenses. But the uncertainty of the retail industry, and the fear of it reaching saturation, has made Jadhav plan for his own business. "Despite everything this job has given me, I know there won't be much scope for growth after a few years," he says.

'THERE IS NO JOB SECURITY'

JANAK PANDEY I 40

LUCKNOW

FORTY-YEAR OLD Janak Pandey sells bangles and jewellery inside the Big Bazaar retail store in Saharaganj Mall, Lucknow.

He is an old hand at luring women to the sparkle of bangles and persuading them to buy a dozen more than they really need.

Before he started working at this store in 2005, he sold bangles in Kanpur for 10 years.

With his experience of over two decades, Pandey now supervises the work of half-adozen salespersons at the store. His small team is fond of him because of his friendliness and genial nature.

Pandey comes from a family of farmers in Jhulaghat village on the Indo-Nepal border in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. The search for a job and a better life made him leave home years ago. He had failed his Class X examination, and with few options ahead of him, he came to Delhi. He worked as a salesman at a toy shop. His salary was Rs 100 a month. "But it was much better than being a labourer," he says.

Later, while selling toys at various fairs in Uttar Pradesh, he came in touch with a Kanpur- based jeweller, who offered him a job of salesman at his bangle shop for Rs 2,200 a month. He shifted to Kanpur in 1995.

Though he is confident enough, the only problem he faces is his inability to understand or speak English. "But it is not such a big deal.

Rece ntly, I sold bangles of about Rs 50,000 to a foreigner. All you need to utter in English is the cost of the product and a few other common words," he says.

Pandey earns Rs 10,000 a month, which he gets in cash. He does not have a salary account, nor other employee benefits.

Despite his experience, Pandey can take nothing for granted. "There is no job security.

If the owner wishes, he can ask me to leave at any moment without an explanation," he says. If he quits this job, he would have to compete with younger and more educated men and women. "When I go to other stores, they offer me only Rs 4,000 or Rs 5,000," he says.

Pandey lives in a rented one-room accommodation in Narhi locality, about a kilometre from his workplace. "I pay Rs 2,000 as rent.

Another Rs 2,000 goes for food. I save only Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 a month which is sent to my wife and three children in Jhulaghat," he says.

Pandey visits his home once in three months.

"The mobile phone helps me stay in touch with my family and I try to call them once every day," he says.

A salesman's job is not how he sees his future. "I am 40 now. After two or three years, when I have saved some money, I will go back to my village to start my own bangle store and live with my family," he says.

'I REQUEST THEM TO SPEAK IN HINDI, AND THEY ALL DO'

JYOTI LODHI I 21

BHOPAL

JYOTI LODHI, petite in a striped shirt and trousers, with a neatly-tied bun, is busy folding jeans and placing them on the racks at the Reliance Trends outlet in Aashima Mall on Hoshangabad Road, Bhopal.

"I never expected to do or enjoy this, because I always hated domestic chores," says the 21- year-old salesgirl from Katni, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Forty-five days into her job, she is surprised by her own efficiency, as also her increased confidence. "I was always a shy girl, but now that I interact with many customers through the day, I am much more confident," she says.

In Katni, Lodhi, the eldest of four siblings, was a teacher at a primary school, following the footsteps of her father, a government schoolteacher. After her marriage to a contractor six months ago, she moved to Mandideep, an industrial town 20 km off Bhopal. As Mandideep has very few schools and her husband works for long hours, Lodhi was getting bored at home. So, when a tenant of her in-laws informed her about an opening for a "customer sales associate" for Rs 5,500 a month, she jumped at the opportunity, even if it meant travelling by bus to and from Bhopal every day.

"I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Time just flies here,'' she says of her nine-and-ahalf- hour routine that requires her to report for work at 10 am. In the women-andkidswear section, she handles a stream of customers, most of them families shopping at leisure. Is she bothered by her lack of English-speaking skills when dealing with well-heeled customers? "I request them to speak in Hindi, and they all do," she says, describing "95 per cent of customers as 'understanding'.

'I DID NOT WANT TO JOIN MY FATHER'S BUSINESS'

UMESH JAGTAP I 28

PUNE

A REGULAR DAY for 28-year-old Umesh Jagtap begins at 10.30 am at the Croma store on Aundh Road, Pune. He changes into his regular livery and gets down to business selling high-end television sets to prospective customers and winds up only by 11.30 pm. "I have been here for the last eight months," he says.

"The job is exhausting but fun."

He is used to being a street-smart talker, but the job as a salesman is new to him.

Selling TVs requires a familiarity with technical specifications as well as the ability to find a potential buyer. "I used to approach every person walking into this section earlier with a courteous 'May I help you?' but then I realised that it didn't work. A lot of the people coming in were just window shoppers and more often than not they would snap back, saying no need," he says.

Jagtap comes from a lower middle-class family; his father was a newspaper vendor and wanted him to join the business. Jagtap did not have other options: "But I loved to talk, and I thought, why not become a salesman?"

He earns Rs 9,500 a month, and, based on the number of TVs he can sell, he can make up to Rs 15,000 a month.

For salespersons, a major challenge in dealing with customers is language. "I don't come from an English-speaking background.

A lot of shoppers treat the sales staff at retail places with contempt (because they are not fluent in the language) but that doesn't mean that we cannot learn. I have learnt to speak English on the job. It might not be very fluent but it helps," he says. The customer, however snooty, he says, will warm up to him if he does his job well. "Once you have found a potential buyer, you have to ensure that you inform them well. It is not about promoting a particular brand but also about ensuring that they get a good deal."

Holidays and weekly offs are meant to be spent with his children and wife. "I work in a retail store, so it really doesn't make sense going to a mall. And it also means spending a minimum of Rs 500, which is not affordable on my salary," he says.

The conspicuous consumption he sees every day can be bewildering. "Everything is available there. Cameras, mobiles, TVs, laptops.

There are times when really rich customers walk in and buy goods worth lakhs as though they were buying groceries and it makes me think, 'Will days like these come for me too?' "

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