Decathlon's new megastore makes sure that you never run out of space

Decathlon’s new megastore in Noida
A little girl came running out of a tent big enough for nine plus her. She flung a tennis ball towards a man standing at a distance. A game of catch began between father and daughter close to the entrance of Decathlon’s new mega store in Noida’s Mall of India. At most other stores, a duo like this would have been treated with the disdain accorded to unwanted stray elements who try everything and buy nothing. And these two were possibly not there to buy anything at all. They looked like they had just come to play with the staff who soon joined them.

The staff, I think, is overpaid, underworked and appreciated for all the wrong reasons. Thirty minutes to closing, in a store spread across 30,000 sq ft, the fit-looking young men and women had all the time in the world to engage their unlikely customers in all sorts of games — basketball, football, table tennis... I understand that at least some of the enthusiastic customers fiddling with product scanners at the self check-in counters must have made their jobs easier, but what about the rest of us clueless first-timers?

It especially does not help when you are being constantly startled by a group of obnoxiously loud people, zipping past you on their bicycles or other weird three-wheeled scooters. The children are the worst kind of freeloaders. For God’s sake, can someone please help me find a pair of pants for my yoga class tomorrow?

Since I had decided not to smile back at the children and their handlers among the staff, I knew that I was on my own. Frantically looking for those pants, I was reading — along with the aisle markings — almost everything pasted on the walls. And there I found them. No, not the pants, but pictures and stories of staff members and the sports they prefer. It seemed like they had been given a free pass to play at work. Well, some of my former workplaces had gyms and other recreational rooms, but the play areas were strictly for after work hours. My anger was beginning to turn into envy. But I chose to focus on my spiking curiosity about the place.

I decided to take a quick tour. A few staff members guided me through the fairly neat jumble. I was beginning to warm up to the idea of simultaneous work and play. By the time I had explored a few sections, including golf, pilates, running, hiking, camping and badminton, my fitness tracker buzzed to remind me that I had walked 12,000 steps. Then another staffer suggested that the remaining tour will be faster on a bicycle. So I grabbed a B-Twin. Soon, the obnoxiously loud children and I were indistinguishable.

My next stop was the skating section where an enthusiastic Mohit Singh Bisht, staffer and football player from Uttarakhand, introduced me to a waveboard. He spent the next ten minutes chatting and teaching me how to use it. A man who had failed to nail a skateboard several times was finally getting the balance right on a set of wheels. And atop the board, the realisation came rushing at me, that all this while the staff had been doing exactly what they were being paid to do: play. Bisht also told me that his employer encourages minimal hierarchy and a lively work-is-play kind of atmosphere. And on top of that, it pays well. Athletes from all sports, irrespective of their sales experience, are welcome to apply for a job.

The store has several camps laid out, a basketball ring, a football net, a table tennis table and a whole of space to just run, jump, skate and cycle. It is a blessing for the inhabitants of a metropolis who are increasingly running out of space to express their sporty selves. 

By the time the staff was ready to close the store at 10 pm, I had given up on the idea of buying those yoga pants. Perhaps I will go looking for them again. On a waveboard.

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