Raju Gidwani’s journey from supermarket shelf boy to executive director

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    When at a hypermart, be nice to the “shelf boys,” the guys who arrange merchandises across the racks and help you find your way to the cookie jar you’re looking for, or was it the peanut butter jam? 

    You never know. That guy could be the next Raju Gidwani, whose colorful story goes back to the days when he was 23 in 1991 and, having just finished his MBA a year earlier, was filling up rows upon rows of shelves at supermarkets in Ajman and Sharjah instead of sitting on a swivel chair signing papers.

    Years later, Gidwani, who left his middle class family, which was running a textile business in Beawar, Rajasthan, India to, in his own words, “create my own destiny,  achieve goals and self-depend,” would become executive director of Shankar Trading Co., an affiliate of the very supermarkets he was “shelf boy” at.

    “I joined Shankar Trading in 1991. I learned from scratch. I started working as a shelf boy. From there, I began my journey. I learned, in a couple of years, the retail trade,” Gidwani now 52, told Dubai Vibes Magazine in a rare interview.

    From working the shelves, Gidwani was assigned to handle import procurement and logistics in 1993. Two years later in 1995, he was promoted as manager. In 2010, he became general manager and in 2015, was the director for the company’s fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) division.  He became executive director last year.

    The company, meantime, has grown to become a key player in UAE’s retail trade, being a major importer and wholesale distributor of “ethnic” FMCGs to such big brands like West Zone, Carrefour, Choitrams and Lulu, as well as the cooperatives.

    “It was challenging when I left India. During my study time, I was in India helping the family with the textile business. It was really a hard time for me working in a supermarket,” added Gidwani, who at nine was already helping his father with the textile business.

    Gidwani found brotherly love in Naresh Bhawnani, chairman of West Zone Group, and provided support –  a business relationship that would prove fruitful through the years. 

    “There was one West Zone in 2005,” recalled Gidwani. “The 125th store (in the UAE) will open in Dubai soon,” he added. A week prior to this interview, West Zone Supermarket opened its 124th store, which is located in Abu Dhabi. The first West Zone branch opened in Mirdiff on Dec.2, 2005, according to Gidwani.

    The easy availability of Filipino FMCGs across UAE is largely being credited to Gidwani, too. 

    “I saw the potential 20 years ago,” he said. “Every nationality, when they come here (in the UAE), they always miss their home food,” he added.

    Gidwani said he first visited the Philippines in 1995. Soon, he was transacting business directly with manufacturers there. And so, starting off with around 20 Filipino products, Shankar Trading is now importing and distributing over 1,000 in the UAE, he said.

    What probably keeps Gidwani going is that spirit of being a good Samaritan. On weekends, he engages himself in social work.

    “I want to help the community. I want to see everyone happy. Nobody should sleep hungry,” Gidwani said. “We’ve earned a lot from here. Now it’s time to give back to the community,” he added.

    Indeed, having gone full circle from arranging supermarket shelves to importing and distributing mechandizes, there seems nowhere else to go but back to the community, where after all and at the end of the day, it all began.

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