By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Kendrick Co believes that Filipino entrepreneurs can do more than following what the foreign brands have already been doing. Filipinos are capable of serving not just the local market but bring their brands to the world arena.
Although there is nothing wrong with foreign brands coming into the country, Co believes that Filipino entrepreneurs can also do the same bring their brands to foreign shores.
This is what drives Co to become an entrepreneur himself after working in an advertising company. His goal was to create a branding company to disrupt the status quo.
To carry on his vision, Co has decided to put up his own company Antidote Brand Divergence, Inc.
Antidote is the answer to “me too” brands proliferating around. It seeks to go against a poison that is preventing Filipinos from leaping to the next level.
His company called Antidote is something that works against an unwanted condition to make it better.
Co explained that foreign brands do not create much value to Filipinos, but could have had these products been produced here and sold overseas. “We could have created more employment and bring more pride to the country had these products been produced here,” he says.
Co blamed this consumer mentality among Filipinos, making Filipinos more subservient to these foreign concepts. “We should create our own brands that we can sell to other countries and be known as Filipino products,” says Co.
The idea is to sell a Filipino product to foreign markets. If that product becomes a hit, it becomes a commodity that foreigners buy, including the brand’s story.
Co cited some local brands that make it to the international, but these are more of an exception than the rule.
“We should not only be known as a supplier of intermediate products, but as producer of commodities,” he adds.
At first, he tried developing brands for clients but eventually gave it up as clients cannot sustain such long-term goal. Clients tend to go back to what they used to do, the easier way by sell locally, and go for the price competition.
In other words, Filipino entrepreneurs are not yet ready for the long-haul vision where one has to invest not just money, but time because brand development can take years and this involves consumer education.
LAGU – ITS FIRST BRAND
The first brand by Antidote is Lagu that Co conceptualized with wife Ellen.
Lagu, which stands for body of water and short for Laguna, becomes the world’s first environment-friendly and allergen-free beach blanket. It is intended for beach lovers, not just Filipinos, but beach lovers around the world.
Lagu is not an ordinary beach blanket. Co has built the concept of a beach blanket that is environment-friendly, lightweight, and serves its purpose.
Sewn by a group of 8 women in Laguna, Lagu is made of a special light fabric made of polyester blend that is sand repellant. Environmentalists talk of eroding sand deposits. But ordinary beach towels are heavy and carry some of the sand with it. With Lagu, the sand falls back on the beach and remains on the beach. Lagu users are then helping preserve the environment.
Is also allergen-free and can be used over and over again as its fiber cannot get easily tangled with the sea water.
“Since it is lightweight, it is also quick-drying. After using it, wash it and it will be ready the next time you’ll step into the beach. It is the only beach blanket you’ll ever need in your entire vacation,” says Co.
This means savings for hotels and resorts by providing Lagu instead of the ordinary towels they are using now.
“Imagine the amount of savings for the resorts with Lagu,” says Co.
Lagu is now patented as some products are adopting similar concept. It is packed functionally, displaying its label. It is already being distributed in some of the country’s top beach outlets and hotels and resorts.
Next year, Co is going to introduce its swim wear line as beach weddings are becoming more popular here and abroad.
Co has not really actively selling Lagu overseas, but many foreigners have adopted the brand and its story.
Orders have gone up as more retailers have inquired for distribution that Co is ramping up production for the export market.
Lagu has been distributed in Singapore, Germany, Canada, US, Netherlands, Spain, France, UK and Australia. It has attracted buyers from Brazil, Argentina and Panama, as well.
“People saw it in our website and some by word of mouth,” he adds.
One blanket is sold for R999 and $35 abroad, but the ordinary heavy and cotton beach towels are being sold for P509 to $100.
Already 70 percent of the Lagu business is export. Co has shipped a total of 35,000 units and sold 20,000 units in the domestic market.
“It only goes to validate the framework for beach lovers, the story of preserving the beach, the place where everyone wants to enjoy,” he adds.
Aside from beach fashion, Co has created another brand called Early Bird Breakfast Club.
The concept is to provide an all-day breakfast to diners who would like a filling and comforting meal before starting his day or at the end of a hard day’s work.
Early Bird Breakfast Club has four outlets already: The Fort Strip in Bonifacio Global City, Century Mall in Makati, Eastwood in Libis and in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa.
This new restaurant concept was born out of the couple’s love for breakfast even if they do not cook at all.
“We love having breakfast, but one has to drive up all to Tagaytay to get a good breakfast as Manila offers very limited options,” he adds.
Despite advice from well-meaning friends against going into the food business, Co proceeded with the plan. In January 2013, the first Early Bird Breakfast Club came to life at The Fort Strip.
The ambiance was constructed in such a way that it embodies some daintiness, the plating is not fancy but pretty, it makes one smile.
Accordingly, breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day. In fact, some people credit good breakfast for a successful day.
“If you have a good breakfast you can conquer the whole day in the same manner that if you have a bad crappy day and you want something to eat for the rest of the day you will crave for a comforting food in a nice ambiance,” says Co.
“So, breakfast has to be good, that is the formula.”
At his restaurant, breakfast is available the whole day. In fact, the Fort outlet, which is surrounded by bars, is now open 24 hours because customers wait for them to open at 7 in the morning and knocked on doors late at night for a good meal.
“Our customers at the Fort would like to have breakfast before driving home. Some also want to load up and eat something heavy before drinking,” he adds.
What used to be just a hole in the wall is now a full-fledged restaurant with people lining up for breakfast.
With its open kitchen, diners take photos with the chef and post them online. The restaurant got good reviews, too.
“We’re packed that we have to get a bouncer,” says Co adding that they already have inquiries for franchising even if the brand is still young.
With a solid concept, an ever-evolving menu, and talented chefs in the kitchen — namely executive head chef Matthew Homsby-Bates and sous chef Matthew Lim — Early Bird Breakfast Club has become the top all-day breakfast restaurant in the Metro by committing to their original idea of offering all-day breakfast served beautifully in an ambience that makes you feel like you’re not in the city.
The food business has really exploded in the past two years that small restaurants proliferate even in unfamiliar places.
So, there is a need to really develop a concept that can sustain you for long years, just like Max’s which has been operating for the past 70 years.
“Food is very personal and customers identify themselves with the establishment. So the concept is something that should be sustainable through the years, even generations,” he adds.
He would like to see his customers bring their grandkids because they love the old restaurant.
Co said that while it is easier to start a restaurant now, it is also harder to maintain a restaurant business now with many food concepts from local to foreign and so many available spaces in malls to locate into.
“That is becoming a challenge because everybody shares in the same growth, so should have a concept that could stand the test of time,” adds Co, who revealed having an ROI in just a couple of months as against industry average of 2 to 3 years.
He also noted that before there were only 6 suppliers to choose from but with its latest Nuvali branch, it has 20 suppliers. This makes Co very calculating as he searches for new locations that can also sustain its long term vision. The company also intends to build a commissary next year.
When they started in 2013, there were only a few serving breakfast but there are now at least 50. So, how do you reinvent yourself?
Co is now branching into the sports division focusing on recovery products of every sportsman under the brand “A Game”.
“A Game” is a sports recovery product made for athletes who want an efficient cool down regimen.
“We always talk about being a sports-loving country so we created a brand that can transcend across all sports-loving people,” he adds.
Its focus is on recovery products because athletes and individual sportsmen train hard and practice hard for a game or competition but what gets lost in the whole process is the recovery aspect.
“After every game, most athletes just change clothes then go home and that goes even with nutrition. As a sports loving country, we are still behind as to the science of recovery after every game or competition,” says Co.
There are studies for basketball players in the US showing that an athlete’s performance depends on his recovery. If the recovery is poor then the performance is also poor.
According to Co, when “A Game” is rubbed down on the skin after a game, it cools down the body temperature faster and switches to rest mode.
“The sooner you can lower your heart beat the sooner you can rest and muscles start to repair. Coupled with good nutrition, the body can recover faster,” says Co.
In very competitive sports, Co said, every second is critical so recovery matters a lot.
“A Game” when rubbed down on the body, arms or legs has immediate impact because its main ingredient is magnesium chloride, which is scientifically proven as building blocks in helping muscles cool down faster. The skin can absorb the magnesium chloride faster than when it is taken orally.
Similar products in other countries are using magnesium flakes but it is uncomfortable on the skin because it is briney so the feeling is not smooth. The “A Game” formula allows faster skin absorption because it is water-based with no briny feeling making its smoother even in contact sports.
Co also hired a chemist and imports magnesium chloride from Israel making the product food grade and safe.
“A Game” has just started in the local market. It is available in big drug stores. The product is a hit among triathletes, who talked a lot about marginal gains because every second matters a lot in individual sports.
Antidote is also behind Spud Buds Potato Company, which produces handcrafted potato snacks using locally grown potatoes varieties from Benguet.
As an employer of about 150 people who rely on him for their livelihood, Co takes his role seriously.
“It is a pressure knowing that the mistake you make not only affects you but also the families around you,” says Co, who has been grateful to be running his business smoothly even if he has no experience in these ventures.
As a steward and leader, Co knows the potential of his people and tries to develop them.
For instance, he got a pioneer employee with no experience, not even a college education. But he assigned him as a dishwasher.
Because the employee proved to be very hardworking and very honest, he has transitioned to become one of his auditors for inventories. In a business where pilferage is a major problem, employing an honest person is a real gem.
“He is now one of our senior auditors,” says Co.
One dishwasher, who has shown strong interest in cooking, was also given a chance by its chef that he is now a sous chef.
“As long as you want to learn we will train you, there is no limit so it is important to teach employees. We don’t put a limit to what we do,” says Co.
“People should find purpose in life so if your purpose and if your purpose is not to stay for long with us, we will not take it against you,” says Co.
One of Co’s employees is now a teacher because he really wanted to become one. Co had encouraged the employee to take up MBA and PhD degrees sponsored by Antidote.
“The eventuality of him leaving after his schooling did not stop us in finding a way to help him and in a way he helped the company also in achieving its goal,” says Co.
Even during interviews, when an applicant’s answer does not jibe with his, Co says they know how to line up people for the right job.
Their employees have also found better jobs in cruise ships for which Co has proud of.
“These are opportunities that we cannot match, so we cannot be selfish. If it is good for you and your family go for it and if that job here is still available when you come back you can still get it back,” says Co.
Even if they are still considered small, Co makes it a point to give its employees what is due them.
Co has noted of a mediocre culture among some companies where they do not give their employees the full benefits because anyway they don’t work hard enough for them or employees are not working hard enough because their employers do not give what is due them.
Being an entrepreneur goes beyond financial well-being, according to Co. It is about having that balance of a long term vision and sticking to that goal.
“Success is actually more of ups and downs that when a bad day hits, an entrepreneur just have to keep pushing through,” adds Co, who finished marketing communications at the University of Asia Pacific.
“We only work on things we’re passionate about and we do care our environmental footprint,” says Co, who looks up to Richard Branson of Virgin Islands for the way he approaches business with lots of fun.
“So the brands we created reflect who we are,” says Co, who also idolizes Steve Jobs of Apple for his approach to innovation.
That’s why he would rather encourage the youth to become entrepreneurs and to transform ideas into action than rely on working short-term.
While the BPO industry is doing great for the country in providing jobs for the young Filipinos, he said it is “Catch 22” growth.
“In an uncertain time, what if these Americans just pack their bags and leave a huge workforce behind. We need more people to become producers and creators,” says Co.
“Look at the titans, we can also do what they have achieved. Theirs is a story of an ordinary person, but the narrative is that anyone can do it,” he adds.
There is nothing wrong with working hard to reach that level of your idols. In fact, there is a saying in the US for those chasing the American dream to “Work hard until your idols become your rivals.”
“Achieving the goal of creating a universally known brand from the Philippines is tough. But it can be done,” says Co.
“As a country, we take pride in sending out our professionals. But we should not be sending out our best people. We should be sending out brands that our best people have created. I think that’s more sustainable for the economy and for the country.”
“Even if we’re niche, we can still expand our market. Brands have the power to touch lives. This is why we believe that a brand that travels and reaches foreign shores can represent the best of what the originating country has to offer.”
It’s not so much what is popular or cheaper. There’s value to that, but long-term, for the benefit of the country.
Co is on his way to prove he is right.