It’s been almost 6 months into my first job. It’s been an amazing ride – a lot of learning, got exposed to corporate life, retail, Bangalore and a lot more. After stints as store fashion advisor, department manager, store manager and shadowing a regional manager (each having long stories of their own), I was in the middle of a retail operations project and this account is about the one which involved opening a new store. Retail can be unexpected and to add to the usual amount of surprise, I had no clue which store I would be sent to open. One fine day, I enter office to find out that I’m supposed to pack up for Tirupati in a couple of days! I was to leave on Thursday and the new Megamart store had to open on Sunday! Some hasty bag packing and ticket booking later, I was on my way from Majestic in Bangalore.
I’d heard a lot about the new store experience from my senior colleague – you need to experience it to know what it is. Some said it was like the delivery of a baby – has to happen at the right time in the right way! On one hand I was excited about it, but then a bit wary at the same time. But I didn’t get too much time to think about it along the journey – the screen and speakers in the Airavat were blaring with Salman Khan and some random mess which was supposed to be a movie (Sorry fans. But I really don’t get the point. You may say I should keep aside logic and watch. I tried! I honestly did! But it’s just too much!)
I reached Tirupati bus stand and a wave of nostalgia hit me. I’d come here once with my family when we used to live in Chennai. The ride up and down those one-way roads on the rickety buses brought back a wave of nausea along with the nostalgia. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience – the pushing, shoving and hours and hours of standing just for a 1-second glimpse before you’re pushed away again. I didn’t really look forward to doing that again and didn’t keep it on my list of things to do for the week. I travel light – so I don’t really mind walking around. Google Maps told me that my hotel was about a kilometre away from the bus stand. I chose the narrowest lanes and walked – a good way to get a proper picture of the town. The weather was forgiving – so that didn’t cause any trouble.
Weather had played spoilsport – rain had delayed the construction work. We were supposed to get this thing ready for business in 3 days! I reported to my manager who told me to get a feel of the place and get started! Armed with masks and rags, we set out to clean the entire store. What ensued was a lot of swishing of brooms, dust clouds covering the entire place, sneezing (my dust allergy didn’t help) and mopping it down. Construction work was still happening on the front glass wall and dust kept coming back in. Bah!
The stocks arrived the next morning and we set about unloading them. Human chains passing along boxes full of stock. You’d have seen construction workers passing along bricks and cement in the same manner. Except that these were huge boxes full of clothes. I know I don’t look like much of a strong-man, but I did manage to pass along those 500 odd boxes that were unloaded from the trucks. I have encountered a question many times in the last 6 months – how does it feel to study from an IIM and then pick up boxes/ fold clothes/ attend customers/ clean a store/ pick up a broom and stuff like that. Stupid question really. I mean, why can’t an IIM grad do such stuff – does he get extra horns after graduating? Well, to be honest, it feels good! I’d always wondered about the lives of people in stores, construction sites and the like. And I actually got a chance to experience it first-hand! Now where else would I have got such a chance? Definitely not in an AC office! And of course, what’s the point of working in apparel retail if you can’t even face customers or fold a garment properly! 😛
After this came the counting of the stock inside the boxes and labelling them. Thousands and thousands of garments came out as we organized into teams and attacked the boxes. The audit was all done by around 11 in the night. It was Friday night and the entire store had to be set up and opened for customers on Sunday. The place still looked like a construction site with dust and glass and tiles lying all over the place. The workers had made their homes in the trial rooms where I found stoves and oil and atta!
Come Saturday, we started off with another round of cleaning. Every wall, shelf, fixture and floor – wiped clean. The boxes had to be sent to their respective floors so that they could be open and the display set up. As I helped a housekeeping boy pick up a heavy box, I casually asked him – do you study? He said he was an electronics and communication engineering student and worked whenever he got free time. I felt a rush of gratitude to my parents and God! I didn’t have to think about money when I did my engineering in ECE! We pretty much finished the segregation and final cleaning by afternoon. Now came the tricky part! Display! Till now it had been manual labour. But now the brain came into the picture. Folding and displaying stock according to norms. And to complicate things, we had over 30 brands in the store across men’s, women’s and kids. It was time-consuming and tedious. That night, we stretched till 3am. But the work continued with the night shift staff coming in.
By Sunday morning, the store was almost done. A couple of floors had displays pending and rain had disrupted work in the exteriors. We pushed on for a noon start. It wasn’t that easy. People were tired after all the stretched work in the last 3 days. By now, I was beginning to feel like I was in the middle of my college fest. Loads of running around, picking up stuff, calling people, coordinating, motivating the team to work and working without rest. It was pretty much the same, with the final pro-show being the customers entering the store. The women’s and kids’ sections are quite complicated to set up and only those who are used to it can do it well. A person may fold clothes in seconds in the men’s section but will stand clueless in women’s and kids. By around 5, the interiors were set up and ready. But work still remained outside as the workers finished the façade to perfection. By 7pm, people started flocking in front of the store – looking at the lights and displays. The emotions inside the store heightened as everyone moved around putting all the fixtures and stands in place – so that everything would be perfect for the customers! So that all the effort of the last few days bears fruit. By 7:30pm, there was a crowd of around 70-80 people waiting for the doors to open. When the doors opened at 8pm, the crowd swept in happily and the cashiers got busy. It was a treat to see the excitement on the staffs’ faces as they assisted the customers and showed them around the store that THEY had set up with all that effort! I walked out and took a look at the completed store – that moment summed up the last 3-4 days. Happiness, relief, pride and a sudden feeling of tiredness. As we moved about congratulating each other, I remembered the last nights of the college fests. Now to go back and get a good night’s sleep. Here are some “Before-After” pics.
Sadly that wasn’t to be. Next morning, I went up Tirumala for the darshan of the Lord. It got done quite fast – just about 6 hours in the general queue. And this time, I got a beautiful darshan as the crowd was not as brutal as the last time I had visited. After pocketing the delicious laddus, I started on my way back to Bangalore.
What I thought would be a unique store opening experience turned out to be the first of many! I ended up opening 17 stores of Sephora over the next 4 years. But we’ll keep that for another post 🙂