By Boby Kurian & Reeba ZachariahEver noticed how the staffers at a luxury store look as premium as the products they sell? Maybe that’s because they’ve been powdered and puffed, pampered and indulged enough to ensure they never leave. At Aditya Birla‘s luxury fashion chain, The Collective, for instance, they are the million-dollar employees – the ones who bring in annual sales worth $1 million. And keeping them in high spirits can only result in more moolah.
Gone are the days of the over-eager ‘salesman’ with his oily smile and sweaty handshake. The new store executive is sharp and suave, and effortlessly showcases the product he’s selling. Marquee global brands are lavishing attention on picking, training and retaining high-class staff only for the close ties they strike with the upper crest of India’s spending class.
So while some brands offer their employees a retention bonus to stay put, others such as Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna and Dior have gone a step ahead and reinvented the look and feel of their store to attract well-groomed and qualified staff that has now taken on the role of brand custodian and fashion consultant.
Why Employees Are Pampered
Consultancy firm McKinsey estimates that over nine million Indian households are a target for luxury brands, and about 40 per cent of them – some of whom don’t mind spending a few lakh rupees on a single store visits – are between Mumbai and Delhi. Not surprisingly, picking the right staff is top priority-luxury brands are focusing on making experienced hires from aviation and hospitality backgrounds while many more CEOs are descending on fashion institutes and finishing schools for campus recruitment. “There’s a new store culture attracting staff from good middle-class families,” says Tommy Hilfiger CEO Sailesh Chaturvedi. “We make it a point to listen to them and provide them direct access to the top brass. They drive the shopping experience that is crucial to branding these days.”
It pays to be an executive at a high-end store. The store manager of a luxury retailer in Mumbai’s Palladium Mall takes home more than Rs. 20 lakh per year, while store staff is paid between Rs. 4 lakh and 6 lakh annually. Retired models and India-returned NRI housewives take up jobs as consultants at some stores, much like students from pedigree institutions and working models in Europe and the Far East take up commission-based work at Gucci or Prada stores on weekends.
“These people look at life and a career differently,” says Shital Mehta, who heads The Collective. “They’re not terribly excited about becoming mere store managers; it’s interacting with the well-heeled that draws them.” And working at a luxury store is a definite step-up in the food chain for any executive. “It connects me with the wealthy,” says Navin Sonawanneya, 30, assistant store manager at Tod’s which is known for its shoes and bags. “You develop a bond with them, they value your suggestions, and on occasion they call you home.”
Employee Retention StrategiesSome brands go so far as to prepare a career road map as part of their employee retention strategy. Diesel, for instance, puts every store employee on a professional enhancement programme. “There are store staffers who have gone on to become visual merchandisers, buyers and designing talents,” says Darshan Mehta, CEO, Reliance Brands, which operates a JV with Diesel.
Burberry’s country head, Nalini Gupta, argues that India’s retail story has become a serious career option as several luxury and high-street retailers like Hermes and upscale men’s clothier Tom Ford enter the country, braving economic uncertainties. “A talent pool for selling luxury brands has now started to build up in India,” says N S Rajan, partner, Ernst & Young, “and business school grads are adding to the intelligence quotient of their sales personnel”.
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