My Money Story: Binalot Fast Food

Posted at 01/17/2009 9:05 AM

I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My dad, Bienvenido Juan, is into automotives. My mother, Charito Tambunting Juan, has a school. Rowena, my sister, now runs our mom’s school. Raffy, my brother, is into truck manufacturing. Our youngest, Rosario, is country manager of Figaro Coffee Company in Shanghai. It’s not uncommon for us to talk business over dinner. And establishing a business is like no big deal for us.
 
While our mom thought us social graces and moral values, our dad taught us everything we needed to know about business. He thought us we had to work for our money, especially during school vacations when we didn’t get any allowance. And the most important thing we learned from our dad is to keep our credit clean.
 
My dad is very supportive, apart from supplying items for us to sell, he’s also financing our ideas. Basta babayaran namin siya. Para sa kanya, kapag uutang ka, dapat bayaran mo. He always says a businessman is always as good as his word. Once he lost his credibility, he’s gone.
 
Despite the lessons, I was still the late bloomer in the family. But from those lessons, I realized, I wasn’t really in for the money, I enjoyed the interaction more, so I gravitated to marketing and sales.

Finding a niche

After finishing marketing and management from De La Salle University-Manila, I worked in Toyota to learn about the automotive industry and in Honda to learn about vehicle sales. After which I rejoined our family business. Since everything was already in place when we joined, Raffy and I had to find our own place in the family business.
 
We found ourselves with a lot of free time then, and that’s when we thought of putting up our own business. We thought of food since we both love to eat. At `pag ako ang nagbenta, may kredibilidad ako – as you can see in my size. But we didn’t know how to cook. We asked our friend, Aileen Anastacio, a graduate of the Center for Culinary Arts, to cook adobo for us, eh, masarap, kaya sinali na namin siya sa pagtatayo ng Binalot noong 1996, which we first thought as delivery service to minimize our overhead.
 
Binalot came from childhood memories, when my mom used to wrap our food in banana leaves as our baon when we used to go to our little farm in Cavite. With about P50,000 as capital, we were actually not serious about it. We didn’t expect it to grow. And in finding our niche, I found some difficulties when we’re starting Binalot.
 
For one, our family business is already established. Nagsimula ang Binalot nang ako lahat. In automotive, the customer feedback is not that instant, the reaction sometimes comes a year after they bought our products. In food, the reaction is right away – we’re as good as the last Binalot that we served. Here, we focus on operational excellence. Our family business is more on product excellence. The people always look at Binalot’s quality, service, and cleanliness.
 
Despite the difficulties, we were called the darling of the delivery industry since we were selling as much as 500 units daily to offices and condo-dwellers in Makati. Our customers love our rice-and-viand combinations, which we creatively named like Fiesta Adobo, Bistek Walastik, Vivo Tocino, Tapa Rap Sarap, and Pork Bongga Longganisa.
 
Then the economy crashed in 1997. Suddenly, our market’s gone. Our customers stopped ordering. When we followed up, we found out that the office we’re delivering got closed, or that the person who used to order from us was already gone. We we’re in the brink of closure, and we’re very realistic. “Kung mag-aabono pa tayo, sara na natin,” we thought.
 
Going for broke

We’re able to survive because of sheer luck and persistence. We looked for creative alternatives, which one practically fell on our lap. In May 1997, Shangri-la Plaza offered us a space in the food court. We decided to go for broke. That was our first outlet, and on our first day, we did well. We realized that’s the advantage of having a storefront, you’ll have constant sales, unlike in delivery – sometimes there are many orders, sometimes, none.
 
Now, our business model already shifted. Delivery is just gravy and dine in and take out are our main cash cows. With that, we gained confidence and we started opening company-owned stores.

We wanted to go into franchising in 1998, with our three to four outlets then, but I was still nervous. I was not that confident of our support system. In 2003, I enrolled in the Asian Institute of Management and took up Masters in Entrepreneurship. That time also, there was a very persistent franchise applicant. With the lessons from the graduate school and the persistence of that applicant who I felt has so much belief in the brand than I had that time, I began to see the whole forest, not just the trees. We decided to go for it, and so far, we’re successful for franchising grew us to 30 stores now – 24 franchised, six company-owned, with eight dine-ins (three are company-owned), and the rest are kiosks in supermarkets and storefront in food courts.
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From there, our main expansion strategy is now franchising. We now have multi-franchising and we don’t franchise a model that we haven’t tried yet. And we’re introducing the LQ2 model – low capex, quick set-up, and quick return franchising. We will come up with small outlets, like the jolly jeep concept of food stalls in Makati, offering our limited line of our top-sellers.
 
In 2005, we loaned from Planters Development Bank (Plantersbank) to build our head office in Sun Valley, Parañaque and spruce up our commissary as well. That loan from that bank for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) helped to keep us going. Now, depending on the location, we’ve experienced 40 percent to 50 percent increase of sales from last year to this time of the year. I guess it’s because the brand is now well known. And all our supplies are local. We’re now looking for suppliers who we can partner with. It’s critical that we have high-quality products, and the best way for us to ensure that is to partner with suppliers.
 
Sharing blessings

Our mission is to be truly the Number 1 Filipino fast food in the Philippines since there’s no true Filipino fast food yet as far as we’re concerned. Gusto namin `pag tinanong ka ano ang pagkaing Filipino, Binalot agad ang maiisip mo.
 
Our design is modern and hip but with Filipino touches, as we want to promote our culture, humor, and values. We espouse the modern Pinoy and our menu board speaks of that, we use Taglish, like in our all time pinoyvorites. I love to see that the customers are smiling while lining up to get their orders from us, since they find our menu not only appetizing, but also humorously appealing. That makes my day. With that, we’re achieving our vision.
 
And to share our blessings, we started our corporate social responsibility program this January, called DAHON (Dangal at Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon). Before, we got our banana leaves from the markets. Now, we decided to get straight from the source. We trained some farmers from a Southern Luzon province to harvest, fold, and cut the leaves to our requirement.

We now have a jeepney transporting the leaves. Pagdating ng hapon, ang mga kababaihan ang nagpuputol ng mga dahon. Bago kami dumating, nagto-tong-its at nag-chi-chismisan lang sila. Ngayon, sabi nila, nagchi-chismisan pa rin sila, pero kumikita na sila.

With such, we’re aggressively improving our offerings. We’re working to endear ourselves more to the Pinoy customers. And for 11 years now, we remain proud of how we’re wrapping ourselves with success through Binalot.

This article is from is MoneySense, the country's first and only personal finance magazine. You can read more financial tips and stories at www.moneysense.com.ph.