MANILA, December 22, 2004 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - Capital isn’t scarce; vision is... High expectations are the key to everything. I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been. – Sam Walton, late Wal-Mart retail giant founder

Vision is perhaps our greatest strength... it has kept us alive to the power and continuity of thought... it makes us peer into the future and lends shape to the unknown. – Li Ka Shing, Hong Kong taipan & Asia’s wealthiest billionaire

In a Philippine economy seemingly bereft of vision, new investments and impoverished by our many irresponsible politicians, the retail industry remains defiantly vibrant. To celebrate the vigor and excellence of the retail sector which employs 5.25 million people and accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s gross national product (GNP), the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) recently honored its top achievers during its annual Outstanding Filipino Retailers and the Shopping Center of the Year (OFR) awards at the Edsa Shangri-La.

PRA is led by chairman Manuel Siggaoat of Manel’s Leathergoods Corp., vice chairman Ma. Alegria S. Limjoco of Gibson Phoenix, vice chairman Roberto Claudio of Toby’s Sports & Hobbies, and president Bienvenido "Donnie" Tantoco III of Shopwise/Rustan’s who himself recently won the 2004 TOYM Award. The rags-to-riches taipan Henry Sy of the SM retail chain is PRA honorary chairman, while Philippine franchising pioneer and Automatic Appliances CEO Samie Lim is PRA chairman emeritus.

Donnie Tantoco said: "The Philippine retail industry is growing faster than our economy. We’re a country of shoppers and shopkeepers. Unlike other countries where department stores are considered sunset industries, we believe department stores, malls and shops will continue to be very important here in the Philippines."

Winners’ Circle

Memo, an upscale corporate and casual worker shop owned by Bernie Liu of Golden ABC (whose main brand Penshoppe was the 2003 Hall of Fame awardee), was named the Most Promising Retailer-Fashion Category Award. The newest Memo celebrity endorser is Christian businessman Menardo "Butch" Jimenez Jr. of PLDT and Majent Group.

The Most Promising Retailer-Specialty Award is HBC, a one-stop health and beauty shop owned by Drs. Rolando and Rosalinda Hortaleza, who said their success is due to high-quality products and affordable prices. HBC chief operating officer Susan Loyola and marketing manager Jade Tulio said they have no real competitor, because Watsons and Mercury Drug are different. Their newest HBC celebrity endorser for 2005 will be Kris Aquino and they plan to open a minimum of 30 new branches nationwide. For 2004, they added 120 stores, all company-owned.

Folded & Hung got the Small-Scale Retailer-Fashion Award, while trendy home decor and accessories shop Regalong Pambahay won as Small-Scale Retailer-Non-Fashion Category. Winning the Medium-Scale Retailer-Fashion Award is Bayo, while top athletic and sports equipment retailer Sportshouse of Marc Chua won as Medium-Scale Retailer-Specialty Award. Sportshouse category manager Neil Guinto and marketing manager Roy Oroiales said: "We have 29 branches, and we plan on opening five more. Sportshouse is more into sports equipment while our rivals are into sportswear and shoes. Sportshouse pioneered dart and basketball events in malls. We have affordable prices, as well as more expensive brands.

The Large Category Consumerable Award winner is Mercury Drug founded by self-made entrepreneur Mariano Que; two-time OFR winner National Book Store of self-made entrepreneur Socorro Ramos won the Large Category-Durable Award.

National Book Store today has 72 branches with about 5,000 employees. HRD manager Atty. Cornelio Padilla Jr. said National Book Store’s success lies in their thrust to have a complete line of books, school and office supplies. National Book Store is now importing previously-owned US books, with hard-cover books selling for even less than P100.

Blims Fine Furniture, founded by appliance taipan Benito Lim and now led by his daughter-in-law Carrie T. Lim, won the Large Big Ticket Category Award. Carrie Lim said: "Blims built its success on our mission to uplift the lifestyle of the Filipino family with innovative ideas. In the 1970s, we pioneered ready-to-use furnitures as well as the idea of selling furnitures in the malls and the idea of chain retailing. Among our popular products include the La-Z-Boy brand of recliners."

Video City, led by general manager Joey Singian and owned by Viva Entertainment, won the first ever Services Category Award. Singian said: "The secret of Video City’s success is our integrity and our offering good value for our products, the lowest price video rentals at only P15. We opened 40 new stores this year, and we target to open 30 more. Video City now has 290 stores."

Tarlac entrepreneur Jose Ng Chua’s Metrotown Mall of Tarlac City won a special citation for making shopping in Central Luzon at par with the urban center’s best malls. Chosen as the 2004 Shopping Center of the Year is Ayala Center Makati. The finalist in the Mall of the Year category is SM City North Edsa.

Christmas Wishes Of Local Retailers

HBC officials Susan Loyola and Jade Tulio wish the government can earnestly act to stem the alarming flood of smuggled goods. They said: "We wish the government can act to solve this crisis. Our HBC products like our hair-coloring item sells for P15 each, but smuggled items sold by street vendors sell for only P5 each. We wish government bureaucrats will not harass retailers. Once, the BIR demanded one of our stores to show all permits which were in our head office, they just pulled out our cash register and forced that branch to close. HBC pays taxes dutifully. Government should be business-friendly."

Joey Singian of Video City said: "I wish government can be serious in fighting piracy and smuggling. The government is too caught up with raising money that they’re becoming too oppressive to us retailers with excessive tax mapping, and others. Do you know how hard it is to open a new business, with all the delays to get permits? We wish government will encourage investors, not harass."

Carrie Lim of Blims said: "We wish the Philippine peso will be stable and not devalue, because a lot of our products are imported. We want to buy local furnitures, but due to peso devaluations, the local manufacturers prefer to export and local retailers are not a priority."

An amused Donnie Tantoco states: "Our Christmas wish is for more tourists to visit the Philippines. We hope for a level playing field in the retail sector, so that government can expand taxation to include the underground economy, the tiangges and others. The government allows restaurants to charge their operating expenses for taxes, but not us retailers. We hope for a stronger local supply and better distribution system. We wish our consumers will continue this positive trend of buying more Filipino-made products. We at PRA hope that there shall be stronger employment and less unemployment. We also wish for lower energy costs for our malls, supermarkets and stores. We wish the whole Philippine economy to have a Merry Christmas and a truly prosperous New Year in 2005!"

The Philippine retail industry employs a significant 18 percent of the country’s labor force or roughly two of every 10 workers are retail employees. Our government should muster the political will, have bold vision and consistency in crushing rampant smuggling, streamlining bureaucratic red-tape, encouraging investor confidence, boosting law and order to allow fast tourism growth, and inspire hope for a better future.

* * *

Thanks for your messages sent to wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com, wilson_lee_flores@hotmail.com" or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Suggestions, jokes and even criticisms are welcome!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved