So, what do you think of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi? It depends where you are in the world – better said, the Commonwealth. In the UK the press coverage was all about the bio-degradable running tracks and the poor standards of accommodation. Here in India talk has moved swiftly to the medals table though leaders in the major papers have focussed the ineffective and often corrupt management of this signature Event. In particular, management has been slated for failing to deal with the queues for tickets leaving stadia empty as the sporting events kicked off. And yet, just like an Indian Wedding, it was alright on the night and, who could fail to be impressed by the spectacle of the opening ceremony. Let’s move away from the media spotlight and explore the real losers in all of this – the Kirana stores and street hawkers of Delhi.

You can't buy what you can't see

Kirana stores are the Mom-and-Pop / CTN of India. There are over 10.5 million of them all over India. That’s one for every 100 man, woman and child. In fact, whilst retail in the USA and Europe is roughly 80 per cent in the hands of major Retailers like Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour; only 6 per cent of the $353 billion Indian retail trade is in the hands of the modern trade (2010, source IM Retail). That leaves the kirana employing over 40 million people – not including extended family and the people who supply them. The IT industry employs a little over 1 million people.

Back to Delhi and the CWG (Commonwealth Games) and the fact that all sorts of fast moving commercial goods are disappearing from the shelves of kirana stores as branded goods suppliers and distributors are failing to replenish their stocks. Why? Because kirana stores are being restricted to deliveries between the hours of 11 pm and 8 am. With many people living away from the store this is not happening and you can’t get the delivery workers to change shifts that dramatically either.

So, products such as Pepsi, Nestle, Hindustan Lever, P&G and Reckitt Benkiser across all categories from crisps to washing powder are not getting to the Delhi shelves. And, as an old mate of mine from Mars used to say – “you can’t buy what you can’t see!”

I spoke to people from Future Group’s Big Bazaar and others from the modern Retail trade and the story is different. They have managed to stock up and working these hours – in terms of logistics – is the way they do things anyway. For Express kiosks at railway stations and, hot food stalls the position is deteriorating by the day. Worse, the price of perishable items like fresh vegetables has risen by up to 80 per cent – with dairy products hit hardest. Then, there are allegations of corrupt policemen who demand up to 1,500 INR on the pretext of special CWG transport rules. Usually, this means paying off the policeman to waive the fine.

Other companies, like Nestle, have pointed out that the position has been made significantly worse by the recent floods in Uttarakhand – where several major multinationals have plants. A Report in India’a Financial newspaper Business Line highlights the need to extend credit into the kirana sector as this position progresses and that is compounded by the fact that, with nothing on the shelves to sell, the locals are not seeing the benefit of the Games themselves. There’s nothing to buy!

This is a lesson for any Authority planning for huge scale events – Brazil take note. You must not forget that the street food and local stores that give the city their unique character need help to. For so many tourists these places are what makes the place tick when they spill out from the Games. That’s what made Thailand launch the Street Fresh campaign and what makes the Grand bazaar in Istanbul THE place to go. As they say in retail – the devil is in the detail.

In Indian terms this is doubly ironic for the kirana stores because the legislation preventing FDI in Retail is being reviewed once again. There are those who claim that the modern trade will wreck the traditional outlets. In Delhi during the CWGs; Government traffic laws are far more of a threat than anyone could have imagined.