Sunday, September 25, 2016

Upgrading the capabilities of desi retailers-A laudable initiative by an MNC in India

There was a time in India back in sixties and seventies when the word multinational evoked strong adverse reactions among the people as well as the rulers in India. It was not long ago that some of the MNCs were hounded out of some states like kerala accusing them of sabotaging the health of the citizens through their unhealthy products and dangerous manufacturing practices. It was only a decade ago that foreign investments in India were welcomed with open hands in several sectors including retailing. Though many MNCs were skeptical about the change in policy there were some who took the bite and invested in the country to set up their shop. Now that a super friendly regime is in charge of the country, many MNCs are rushing in to invest heavily hoping for success with the support of industry friendly policies. How long this will last cannot be predicted as governments change in a democracy with different parties having their own policy and agenda. Why should a country should be antagonistic to MNCs? Probably root cause of such perceptions is the belief that they are here to exploit the country like the old East India Company which eventually annexed the country and made it a colony of Britishers. If the recent report that a company like Coca Cola, one of the major food and beverage companies in the world, is true, a distinct change seems to be taking place in the attitude of these foreign based companies which augurs well for the country as well as these companies. Here is a take on this development. 

"With over 12 million outlets, India's retail sector, worth $500 billion, and growing at 15 per cent every year, plays a crucial role in the nation's growth story. A major constituent of this burgeoning sector is the chain of 'kirana' shops (your friendly neighbourhood small grocery stores), which contributes almost 90 per cent to the retail sector. These players cater to the majority of the Indian population, and more importantly, are the primary channels for the sale of the popular beverage Coca-Cola.Recognising the need to build the capacity of 'kirana' retail owners in the country, the  country, the Coca-Cola University (CCU)launched a nation-wide programme called 'Parivartan' (change towards the better). The programme aims to spread knowledge of best practices and equip traditional retailers with the right skills, tools, and techniques necessary to make their business more profitable, as well as build business skills in the four key areas of shop management, stock management, customer management, and finance management.An extensive research was conducted to understand the developmental needs of such retailers, the findings of which were translated into the programme content. To ensure that Parivartan is accessible to the remotest retailer, including those based in rural India, CCU was introduced on wheels - a mobile training unit armed with state-of-the-art equipment. The two-and-a-half hour programme is delivered in vernacular languages with practical anecdotes for impactful communication. The CCU has also announced that it will train 3,50,000 people by December 2017 in the areas of grocery and convenience store retailing, and in food services. The training module will be a mix of classroom training and in the CCU bus called 'Coca-Cola University on Wheels'. While the CCU has been training 'kirana' retailers under its Parivartan programme for the past eight years, the module on quality and food services is being launched this year. Titled 'Parivartan E&D', the training module has been designed by the CCU based on two key insights as the most important parameters while choosing an eating-out option by customers who are on-the-go. These are lack of hygiene, and the importance of good customer service. The training module will focus on the owners and employers of 'dhabas' and other small food service outlets and street food vendors, mostly in the unorganised sector. The training and upskilling of 3,50,000 people by the CCU will aid the government's Skill India programme, which aims at capacity building for employability. Announcing this at the India Retail Forum 2016, held recently in Mumbai, Sameer Wadhawan, vice-president, HR and Services, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, says, "The Coca-Cola system in India has already taken several steps towards skill enhancement, both in the social, as well as sporting arenas. Other than through Parivartan, we are also partners in programmes such as training People with Disabilities (PwDs), and farmers in sustainable and efficient agriculture practices. We share India's urgency on skill training and want to do more than our fair share towards this goal." CCU certified trainers will conduct three-hour long training sessions through presentations and live-examples, as well as through videos, in regional languages. They will focus upon food quality and hygiene, clean atmosphere, customer satisfaction, customisation of food, and customer interaction. Until now, more than three lakh retailers have been trained under the Parivartan programme. Training is offered in six regional languages through trainers certified by the CCU. Parivartan is open to all retailers, not just those who stock Coca-Cola products. The programme has reached out to retailers in more than 5,500 cities across India. More than 7,500 training sessions have been conducted till date. The brand also launched a first-of-its-kind training delivery innovation on Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Using this platform, any retailer could dial into a toll-free number to take Parivartan lessons from the comfort of his/her home."

A knee jerk reaction on the part of many skeptics could be that the latest effort is nothing but to expand their market reach through such trader friendly strategies. May be there is a point in this argument but at this stage there is nothing on the ground to substantiate such an allegation. It is true the market size of India is next only to China and there is space for every body to work and earn through fair means of business. Using wrong advertisement and promotional strategies may bring short time gains but eventually such players will face the consequences in the long run. The present attempt by Coca Cola company, prima facie, looks like a progressive effort with no apparent connection to expansion of market reach for their products. Though organized retailing became a reality about decade and a half ago, still its reach is confined to less than 10% of the volume of business in the retail sector.The role of the old "mom and pop" stores in the lives of people in India is under estimated and probably those in business in the organized retail sector must have realized this bringing about an attitudinal change that the unobtrusive street corner small shop fellow cannot be just wished away leading to the new philosophy of "live and let live". This may be the major reason for MNCs like Coca Cola to hitch hike their fortunes to these stores and what better method is there but to provide technical help to upgrade their capabilities through some non-profit programs like training and skill upgradation. What government should have done long ago under its skill development program, private sector is stepping in to further this cause and this must be applauded.  

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