The Meeting of Minds

 

By Dilys Leung

Just a 5-minute tricycle ride on this typically hot and sunny Monday from Tubod Mar to the St. Michael Archangel Church, it is easy to spot a busy store just across the street where we got off. With the name of a multinational corporation, the J&B Enterprises is actually a local grocery store and bakery shop named after the couple owner Joe and Belle. My partner Sagar and I were welcomed by Joe at the store this early morning. Joe is a very friendly old man, always greeting us with a big and warm smile.

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J&B Enterprises

It is a relatively large and well-organized store in comparison to the majority of small businesses in town. Joe offered us a seat at the bakery shop and started to share us his entrepreneurial story. He started his grocery business 25 years ago with his wife when they decided to quit their jobs as government officers because they were not satisfied with the low salary. Like many people in the country, the couple believed that starting their own business is the only way to get out of poverty and make money for a decent living standard. In fact, Philippines is a highly entrepreneurial nation. After some research, I found that small and medium-sized enterprises account for almost 99 percent of all business establishments in the country. No doubt it is one of the strongest driving force of the country’s economic development as SMEs currently contribute around 30 percent to the total domestic volume sales and 55 percent of the nation’s labour force, according to the Department of Trade and Industry. Entrepreneurship directly ignites economic development of the country, improves people’s quality of life and, most importantly, creates hope for the future. Joe’s story portraits the experience of many in the Philippines.

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Joe (left, pretending to be cool), Sagar (right)

They started off with a small shop selling grocery around the corner of the street. Due to its convenient location and the charming personality of Joe, people from the church, students from schools nearby and residents of the neighbourhood all come to J&B for their daily supplies and essentials. The business grew rapidly with the word of mouth referrals from all the customers. J&B has become one of the most reputable stores in the local community, everyone in town seems to know the store or Joe in person. Soon later they bought the shop next door and opened their own bakery. Seeing the success of their brand, they opened the second store in the central market of Jagna, which is now managed by the wife Belle.

Joe is very patient in answering our long list of questions. The first impression I have on J&B is that they are very sensitive to customer needs. There are students from elementary school to college visiting the store frequently, so they sell stationery supply, provide photocopying service and internet access; they realise the residents nearby have to go all the way to the central market to buy food, so they decided to sell rice and opened a bakery shop where they bake their own bread; they know that it is difficult for people to travel back home the heavy town gas containers, so they offer home delivery services when people purchase town gas from them; it is very hot and humid in the summer, so they order ice cream weekly for sale. It is not difficult to understand why the shop became one of the most well-known stores in town since everyone can always get what they want from J&B. Nevertheless, the wide variety and a large amount of products and services also create problems for inventory taking, sales record keeping and product promotion. These hurdles have to be overcome by a more systematic record tracking system, comprehensive accounting program and relocation of the product displays.

We went to the central market in Jagna where the other J&B branch is located on the following day. To my surprise, it was the grocery store where I bought my snacks and water on my first day in town. We did a simple market research inside the building, finding that there are over 20 shops selling grocery, rice, and school supply. Although the competition is fierce, many of the shop owners seem to be friends with each other instead of a competitor, many would even share resources when the others are in need. The bonding between them is precious and rare in today’s business world.

On our next visit to the store, we met Jobelle, Joe’s daughter who is a university graduate in biomedicine now preparing to get to medical school in the coming year. It is such a pleasure to meet her as we exchanged thoughts on the development of the store and she gave us many insights on the business mindset of the local businessmen. Joe is very satisfied with the status quo of his business at the moment and does not want to make any changes to his company. When we proposed any alteration to the store, Joe will always politely reject the proposal with a kind smile on his face. Jobelle shared her similar experience with us where her parents would reject her plans for the shop. Currently the grocery store stock up all their products in the middle of the shop, customers will always need the help of the employees to get what they want. She always wanted to convince her parents to transform the grocery store into a convenience store (like the 7-11 in Hong Kong). In this case, people can go inside to choose their products and pay at the checkout counter, which could increase footfall, alleviate work burden on employees and enhance the attractiveness of the store appearance. As much as we would love to create such a proposal for J&B, our main task for the following week would be to make sure we understand the real need and expectation of Joe but not to force our own plans on him. Nothing would be more important that ensuring a meeting of minds between our “client” (Joe is more like a kind and cute uncle to us now) and the “consultants”.

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Jobelle (right)

Okay, you will start to get bored if I write any longer, so I might just stop at this point. Now, I am looking forwards to working with Joe again and finally meeting Belle next Monday. See you guys next week with my update on my host family!

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