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A street in Chennai is a training ground for boys to graduate from helpers to business owners

This street is full of shops. Hawkers squatting on both sides right in front of the shops vie with each other for elbow space. The street has narrowed down so badly with the frontal extension of the shops and the sprawling spreads of the hawkers.

People jostle with each other as they walk along this street. The calling out of products and prices rend the air in a force that catches up with the fast pace of the passers-by, grabbing their attention. Some walk and the others almost run to catch the local train from the station at the end of the half-a-mile stretch of this busy street.

Many buy things from the shops and the hawkers, bargaining in a jiffy. The sheer lack of any empty space on this street has kept any vehicle away. Here, buying is always on-the-go. Competition and demand dictate prices. No regulations, literally. The maximum retail price printed on products is a mockery.

The shop owners and the sales boys in teens are a family. One comes from the village to be a shop as a helper and he quickly brings a few others with him and they together find livelihoods for their families. Transactions are made in cash. In times of crisis, help comes without fail from among the vendors and neighbouring shopkeepers. This street is the best training ground for the boys who come first as helpers and later graduate to become sales boys and even owners of businesses. Here, it is a norm for the employer to help a loyal employee with the seed money to set up his own business over time.

These boys have a unique daily routine. They wake up as early as 5 a.m., go to the wholesale markets and vendors uptown to pick up replenishments and return to open up merchandise in proper displays for sales on time. The boys spend a good deal of energy calling out to customers for grabbing their attention. They go to bed after carefully packing up and securing merchandise well after 11 in the night. Their bolster is nothing but a mat and they can be seen sleeping in the neighbouring shop lanes or in a cramped dormitory. Sometimes, even taking bio-breaks becomes a challenge. They learn the tricks of the trade, the nuances of the business and more important, the art of understanding what customers need and when. The tireless work they learn to do becomes a way of life with them. Skills they learn are many: tactics, sourcing, buying, pricing and selling, communication, endurance, multi-tasking, managing money. Yes, it’s this street that has helped (and has been helping) many grow to become successful entrepreneurs and even big businessmen.

Comparing these retail boys with the cab drivers, who come to cities for a living, the latter may make more money initially, but they remain mono-skilled. The retail boys are clearly the winners. It’s multifaceted learning that makes them achievers without exception.

You guessed it right. This is what Chennai’s unique Ranganathan Street is all about — a veritable entrepreneur training ground!

gibsonv@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:53:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/street-smart-entrepreneurs/article30232546.ece

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