When we assess the state and health of the Indian economy now, one of the first parameters that experts examine is the trend in the demand for the retail sector. Are customers coming back to stores? Do they feel comfortable enough to do so? Is the staff protected at the workplace? Venu Nair, MD and CEO, Shoppers Stop, India’s leading premier retailer of fashion and beauty brands, shared with Mangala Chandran, Editor-in-Chief, Clean India Journal, about his professional and personal perspective on the importance of cleaning and how the stringent Covid precautions are reviving the Indian retail sector. Nair has nearly three decades of national and international experience in the retail and apparel industry.
Visualise what you see when you enter any premium fashion retail outlet: racks of beautifully designed fabric draped on gleaming mannequins, perfectly laundered clothes arranged neatly on a rack, and shelves and shelves of apparel, free of dust and all things unpleasant. Now imagine how much of a premium the gentleman ultimately responsible for your pleasant shopping experience would place on cleanliness and hygiene.
“Yes, cleanliness and hygiene are the most basic practices one should follow, irrespective of whether it is your workplace, your home, or for that matter, all spaces around you”, said Nair. “The lack of this does distract me from whatever I am doing, and I do my best to get it noticed by the relevant authorities, and to take action on it. For me cleanliness is not just an action but a mindset. You can only make this world cleaner when you believe in cleaning and make it your foundation. Don’t call the world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses.” Now imagine what a person in his position would feel if he stumbled upon a tissue paper tossed carelessly aside in the corridor.
“Yes, it does bother me hugely, and I have a particular dislike of things not being kept in an organised manner. My first reaction would be to pick up that piece of paper myself and put it back in its place – I would do this myself, and lead by example.” Not every top honcho has this attitude.
“I have encouraged a clean desk policy wherever possible, with all the teams that I have worked with. One can’t force cleanliness onto others; it has to become a mindset, so that the habit formed is sustainable”.
It is one thing to have a personal belief in the necessity of consistent cleaning, but how does ensure that this ethos is nurtured in scores of stores across the country? “We have a very strong policy and framework to ensure cleanliness at all our sites, at all times. This is in all our stores, warehouses and offices across the country. Our policies are framed in such a way that every customer gets the vibe of cleanliness when they visit our stores. “We also do regular audits, just to ensure that there is no slippage of standards at any time. We are a premium brand and having a clean environment is essential to give our customers a great experience”.
Has the Swachh Bharat Mission been at the forefront of inculcating the cleaning habit as a permanent fixture in our lives? “Swachh Bharat is one of the most successful missions of the Government of India. To build momentum around such a basic thing is really tough and the government has done it so beautifully that every individual in this country today talks the same language when it comes to cleanliness. The root cause fix was done so well by communicating the risks attached to lack of cleanliness and now I feel it has become the culture and not just a task for all Indians”.
All this is well and good in a normal world, but the whole world was turned topsy-turvy when the pandemic struck. But when malls and retail outlets were finally allowed to reopen, what have been the concerns? “One thing that has become absolutely important and top of the mind for the customer is safety and hygiene. While hygiene was always a part of every retailer’s SOP, the importance has heightened significantly since the pandemic. Consumer awareness and expectations of retailers like us have been reoriented, and we have risen to the challenge by redoing the SOPs we follow in every store.”
From the very first day of opening the stores after lockdown, staff members felt comfortable coming onto the shop floor. Why? Because they knew that the company had taken extensive measures in terms of safety at the workplace. “Throughout the course of Covid, the revised guidelines have been maintained, and the staff trained for the same, at regular intervals. This has ensured that we have been able to operate our stores, and serve our customers despite the challenges faced.”
A retail store comes alive only when customers return to their normal lives. Nair said with satisfaction: “Business is getting close to normal, because customers have been reassured and are convinced that every level of safety has been put in place.”
Message to the reader:
“We have come a long way, and are making good progress in the domains of cleanliness and hygiene. The importance of cleanliness has been well communicated, and awareness has already spread to a decent extent. I think this is the most important part in the entire value chain.
“I am very optimistic that in the coming years, we will see a positive delta in cleanliness. My message would be to not see cleanliness from the lens of a task or action, but make it a mindset, which you build upon. And more importantly, be a driver of this change and help others to understand the depth of the issue. That’s the only way to make this world a better place to live in for the generations to follow.”
Shoppers Stop’s Covid control measures
- All customers’ temperature is checked, and they are requested to sanitise their hands before entering a store.
- Sanitisers are placed at all touchpoints.
- Staff members have to wear masks throughout the time they are at work.
- Clothes from the trial rooms are steamed using in-house machines before being returned to the shelves.
- Every store is sanitised at regular intervals.
- Glass barriers have been introduced at all cash tills between the operator and customer.
- All biometric attendance have been suspended in favour of a QR-code based system, to avoid physical contact with machines.
- Feedback mechanisms on touchscreens have been disabled.