Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The resolute grocer

The resolute grocer 
Business World Online
September 21, 2010

Corazon Pineda-Aquino
Chief Finance Officer
C & Triple A Supermarket, Inc.

Just like her famous namesake, Corazon Pineda-Aquino is a woman with steely determination. Since childhood, her sense of entrepreneurship has always found a way to express itself.

Born in Tarlac to working-class parents, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino always sought out opportunities to earn additional income. As a young girl, she would collect and sell used bottles of vinegar and soy sauce. Because her family lived near a movie theater, she would harvest star apples from their backyard and sell them to hungry moviegoers.

She later earned a Commerce degree from the University of Baguio and married shortly after. To supplement the family income, she would sell eggs and tocino from their apartment. She even convinced her banker husband to sell to his coworkers. Borrowing a relative’s car, the couple also offered their products to sari-sari stores around town. In two years, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino opened a stall, named Triple A Poultry Products, in the Baguio Public Market.

With their retail store’s success, Mr. Aquino decided to resign and help his wife manage their business full-time. Unfortunately, fire hit the marketplace only a few months after they started their business, destroying their entire inventory. It was a very difficult time as the Aquinos could not get any financial assistance to rebuild their business. "Just thinking about it again is heartbreaking," she admits, "but the trial actually defined my business principle: there are no obstacles too big for a determined woman."

Unwilling to let the misfortune deter her, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino fell back on her instinct and resourcefulness. With a fierce determination, she peddled sisig and barbeque on the sidewalks of Burnham Park. Business picked up and she was able to rent a space near the public market, where she put up a small sari-sari store. A few years later, she spotted a prime location along Zandueta Street and opened a 10-square meter mini-grocery.

With prudence and careful planning, the mini-grocery expanded into a 450-square meter establishment called C & Triple A Supermarket. Initially a sole proprietorship, C & Triple A has expanded into several corporations: C & Triple A Supermarket, Inc. and Pakjaz Corporation which operate three supermarket chains, A-Pine Marketing, Inc. to handle the supermarket’s marketing efforts, and Northern Luzon Market Associates Corporation for distribution.

One of the supermarkets of choice in Baguio City, C & Triple A caters to the C, D and E classes, especially local sari-sari stores that purchase items in bulk. It implements a fully integrated point-of-sale system, enabling management to monitor all transactions. This is managed by her son Patrick, who is her executive assistant in retail and the company’s IT head. "I always learn from the younger ones. Older entrepreneurs like me should always be open to innovations, especially if they help the growth of the business or benefit the customers," Mrs. Aquino-Pineda reveals.

Other innovations in the pipeline include a C & Triple A Customer Loyalty Card and a sales database to provide suppliers with sales offtake data.

While C & Triple A was enjoying modest growth, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino was aware that smaller trading channels such as sari-sari stores would regularly encounter problems in acquiring goods from Manila-based distribution companies. As a consequence, pricing in these channels became exorbitant. This prompted her to venture into distribution in 2000. To strike a win-win balance for all parties, she established A-Pine Marketing in partnership with her principal suppliers. She created a hybrid distribution model, concentrating efforts on developing marginal accounts and making value-for-money goods available to smaller channels. Soon, the smaller trade channels started to enjoy more efficient business because A-Pine’s parity pricing allowed them lower prices while achieving better margins. Today, A-Pine Marketing is the distributor of choice for sari-sari stores in Baguio.

C & Triple A aims to provide consumers with a one-stop shop for their food and grocery needs. The building is currently being renovated to add a second level which will house a meat shop, chicken station, fresh vegetables counter and an ice cream station. The distribution firms will also be starting the construction of a second warehouse and an office building for anticipated new principals.

While Mrs. Pineda-Aquino considers herself an aggressive entrepreneur, she carefully evaluates whether an opportunity should be seized by conducting feasibility studies and holding board meetings to gather insights. "I’m not afraid of moving forward," she says, "but taking risks doesn’t mean blindly jumping right in. It’s still about making calculated choices." This prudent attitude is reflected in the group’s success -- consolidated annual income more than doubled in the past year. More importantly, she measures success in the number of people her business is able to help and support. Thus, C & Triple A holds regular skills training programs to improve customer service. She also cultivates a close-knit culture among her employees and says they treat each other like family.

Having undergone misfortune and hardship firsthand, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino believes that corporate social responsibility can make a real difference in the community. Among its regular projects are providing in-kind donations such as tables and chairs to day care centers; supplying computer equipment to local police; and supporting various community projects. She also considers her two-year stint as president of the Baguio-Benguet Entrepreneurs and Traders Association as one of her successes. "Bringing these emerging entrepreneurs together for a common cause was an enlightening experience," she says. "It inspires me even more, knowing there are other like-minded people who share my passion for helping the poor and marginalized."

Looking back on the challenges she faced, Mrs. Pineda-Aquino says that she never considered just giving up and muses, "When things get tough, I rely on hard work, perseverance and faith." This woman entrepreneur from Baguio City certainly knows how to keep her cool in the face of adversity.


The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 is sponsored by SAP Philippines. The official airline is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operating on behalf of the Air-France KLM Group. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 will be announced on 12 October 2010 at an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.