By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
ILAW ATBP. Corporation operates the country’s lone one-stop-shop specializing in lighting and complete electrical supplies for all home and enterprise needs. This complete supply is located under one roof called Ilaw atbp.
Armed with an athlete’s discipline, former Wushu national champion EDWIN PIMENTEL is out to break barriers as he pursues with vigor a growing business to provide more Filipinos especially in the countryside their need for quality but rightly-priced lighting and electrical requirements.
ILAW ATBP. Corporation was born in 1999 in 6th Avenue, Caloocan City. With a mere capitalization of P300,000 mostly from his winnings and allowances as a member of the Wushu sport national team and in track and field competition, Edwin seeks to become a one-stop-shop specializing in lighting and electrical products from household to enterprise.
Edwin was so particular with the consistency of his products that this led him to invest in an off-shore factory in Guangdong, China five years ago to supply the Philippine market. He believes that Filipinos deserve only the best. They also source from Vietnam for outdoor lamps, but all others are imported from China.
“We put up our own factory in China because we need to ensure the specifications for the Philippine market,” says Edwin. The company’s products are built to suit the fluctuating power supply in the country, ensuring quality, durability and predictability of its products and pricing.
Its lighting products are built to tolerate wide voltage range. Lighting and electricals are not under mandatory product standards of the Department of Trade and Industry, but Edwin said their products are made only of the best quality and meets international standards such as the Philippine Standards and the Import Commodity Clearance.
“To us, quality is more important than price,” says Edwin. The most common chandeliers can be bought for P1,000 and there are also over P800 worth with three heads. But there are more expensive traditional chandeliers.
Today, similar stores are trying to catch up but, it is only in Ilaw atbp. that one can find a whole range of products from high-end to low-end. These products are up to date because they change designs every four months as new trends just keep coming.
The plant in China is a strategic move for Edwin, who belongs to a third-generation of Chinese family migrants to the Philippines. China has a complete supply chain ensuring ready supply of parts.
Aside from supply stability, Edwin said the China plant ensures they are updated when it comes to lighting innovations and trends. Admittedly, China is also ahead in lighting technology and innovations from the traditional chandeliers to the most modern at affordable prices.
“When it comes to technology in lighting, they are the leader,” he adds. Edwin also brings in here Chinese engineers from his China plant to acquaint his Filipino staff on new products.
As the company provides various kinds of lights from general lights up to decorative lamps, ceiling fans and chandeliers of all models, Edwin thought it was best to also launch its own lighting brand – LITES Plus, which is a direct English translation of Ilaw atbp.
By having its own factory in China, the company can now customize its products especially for big institutional projects like hotels.
Ilaw atbp., however, still largely retail, but is putting strong emphasis now on the institutional market as they work with engineers and purchasers. So far, they have supplied the lighting requirements of a high-end boutique hotel chain in Manila and Cebu.
Now, LITES Plus accounts for 60 percent of its total sales for lights from only 20 percent. Edwin said their homegrown brand has made a name for itself slowly but surely. They are also taking care of its brand’s reputation for quality but affordable alternative to the various imported brands in the market.
“Our own brand is correctly priced for its quality,” he adds noting that their own manufacturing plant in China strictly follows their specifications.
Edwin explained that Chinese products have gotten the wrong impression because some businessmen go to China to look for cheap products. So, the tendency for Chinese manufacturers is to produce substandard items to meet the budget of the customer. Normally, if the price is dirt cheap, the quality suffers.
But doing good business is not all about cheap pricing. This is the reason customers are coming back and prefer their products even if these are also made in China because these items come with the proper standards and warranties. Still, Ilaw atbp. conducts final tests when these imported products arrive in the country.
Since not all products can be displayed in the store, the company has also an interactive digital and manual catalogue that customers can browse and choose from. If the products are not yet available in their warehouses in the Philippines, they will import them and deliver it to the customer.
Customized products that are still to be produced at its plant in China will take at least two months to deliver. For the complicated chandeliers and other lighting fixtures, company electricians can install these items as part of their service.
After 20 years, Ilaw atbp. has now 14 all company-owned branches all over the country and is a concessionaire in All Homes outlets. Their institutional clients are also growing as they expand their corporate customers to hotels and new establishments.
Having established this network, Edwin said they have proven their viability. They are now ready for further expansion by offering a turnkey package to new entrepreneurs via franchising. Other firms start to offer franchising after establishing a couple of branches only. This means that Edwin’s Ilaw atbp. deserves a place in this franchising space.
“We also have stores that we closed and we learned from that. With lessons learned from the past 20 years, we can ensure that our franchisees can avoid committing the same mistakes we encountered before. They don’t have to repeat our mistakes. We are ready to franchise,” adds Edwin.
“We franchise because after 20 years in business, we are already tried and tested. We want to share this model and spread this to other areas and entrepreneurs that there is this kind of distribution model that is more cost efficient,” says the La Salle BS Psychology graduate.
Ilaw atbp. was launched by Francorp, the country’s franchising authority, during the Franchise Asia Conference & Expo in March last year. They had a booth at the expo organized by the Philippine Franchise Association.
Already, the company has received some inquiries from potential franchisees. Some young entrepreneurs have become interested because the concept is something new from the current trend in franchising.
With the help of Francorp, they have created 3 franchise models. The first model is the Ilaw atbp. Express, which requires 50 to 100-square meter area and a franchise fee of P390,000, but the total investment could be around P5 million considering the store inventory.
The second model, Ilaw atbp. Standard requires 101 to 150 sqm with franchise fee of P450,000 and total investment of P7 million. The third model is Ilaw Premier for 151 and up sqm with franchise fee of P550,000 and total investments of P11 million. The mix of items on display also varies depending on the need of the community. The return on investment for these franchise models is expected in two to three years.
Aside from the financial capability of the franchisee, Edwin said they would require them to be interested in the business stressing that Ilaw atbp. is not like selling food where you can blame the chef if the product does not sell.
“The franchisee must have a personal touch to the business,” he adds.
Unlike other franchise arrangements, Ilaw atbp. neither gets any royalty fee nor renewal fee for the five-year franchise contract. Edwin said it is already enough that they get a small margin from the products that the franchisees source from them. They only charge one percent marketing fee which is common in franchise contracts.
He would also like to teach his franchisees how to handle their money because he wants them to grow big.
Ilaw atbp. is targeting 50 stores in five years on top of the existing 14 company-owned. Sales this year is targeted to hit P100 million or 30 percent increase over last year.
Edwin would like to limit to three franchise deals only this year so they can handhold these new entrepreneurs before they can grant new ones.
“We are not in a hurry,” says Edwin, who also expressed preference for franchisees in the provinces where demand for electricals and lighting is growing. Edwin said that aside from the hardware and construction supply stores, there is no store that specializes in lighting and electrical supplies in the provinces.
“There are not many choices for chandeliers and decorative lamps in the regions that customers would still come to Manila. Once we’ve opened more outlets in the provinces, they need not travel far just to buy chandelier in Manila,” says Edwin adding they also have one big store in Cebu.
The residential customers still account for the bulk of sales. Their task extends further as store technicians can also recommend architects to customers and interior designers who can help them choose the lights that are suited for their new abode.
Some customers would even bring their own architects and interior designers to their store. Edwin also sponsors some interior designers and architects to China so they can be updated with the latest trends in lighting and decorative lamps.
So far, Edwin has 100 plus workers including those at their headquarters. Each store has an average of 4 people. But franchises will have the option if they need to add.
Each store must also have an NC2 licensed electrician from TESDA. The company also conducts technical in-house training for their staff.
Edwin, who first worked with a business partner to establish the lighting brand OMNI, is now one of major distributors of OMNI lights.
“We carry only quality brands like OMNI,” adds Edwin, who started his business with P300,000 partly from the incentives he saved from his winnings as a national Wushu athlete from high school to college. He was also a varsity player of La Salle for track and field. He was also winning in 100 to 200-meter dash competition.
As an athlete, Edwin has learned discipline at an early stage in life.
“The discipline of an athlete and in business is the same,” says Edwin. As an athlete, discipline means focus on training to achieve the goal of winning the medal.
“As an athlete, you have the passion on meeting the goal. In my business, if you say it is 60 watts it should be 60 watts. In sports, you cannot cheat. If you fail, you fail. So, you have to train hard. There is no shortcut in life,” says the father of two, a girl and a boy.
Athletes spend long hours of training. In Wushu, the competition can last only for a short time, but it takes years of practice and discipline. During the early years of his business, Edwin was doing everything from being a warehouseman to assembler of chandeliers. Now, he would delegate some of the tasks to his managers to work on their own.
“Just like in sports, you must have the passion to give the best in business,” says Edwin.
But an athlete knows his limits just like in business. If a store cannot possibly perform because of several factors, it might as well stop operation or it could go out of control.
According to Edwin, he learned Wushu because that has been the traditional Martial Arts among the Chinese. In fact, he was among the first members of the national Wushu team. His team focuses on the exhibition form like Bruce Lee’s. The other form is the contact Wushu sport.
“In the process, you start from scratch. You cannot do shortcuts, but you need the help of coaches. Just like in business, it is not what you want all the time because there are good ideas from your people. Ideas keep coming in as you continue learning. You cannot dictate because your men are experts in what they do,” he adds.
“Most of all, I am not shy to say I don’t know. Look at Manny Pacquiao, he listens to his coach Buboy because Buboy sees from the outside during the fight,” adds Edwin, who supports a fire brigade volunteers’ group.
Even with his background, Edwin said he is more of a homebody who loves to cook. He is no longer active in sports, but is engaged in ping pong games.
With focus and discipline, Edwin sees Ilaw atbp. to be strategically located in different parts of the country in the next five years. He sees the company leading in new concepts for lights and innovation.
He vowed to continue his focus and to have passion and never be fooled by doing shortcuts. Most of all, he urged respect for all, including employees, customers, and even on the items that he sells.
He learned all these from his father, who started with a small manufacturing business producing sinkers before he went into printing.
“We learned the value of discipline from my father and how he trained us in business by exposing us to business early in life,” adds the fourth in a brood of five, who are now all successful businessmen on their own.
It all takes discipline and passion to make it big in this world.