Revolutionizing the home improvement retail business

- Wilson Lee Flores () - September 4, 2002 - 12:00am
If the Philippine home improvement industry is showing steady growth and undertaking surprising expansion, could this be a positive indicator that Philippine economic growth is gaining momentum and that people are investing and buying more? The world’s second biggest multinational hardware cooperative conglomerate recently established its first-ever business in Southeast Asia in the Philippines. A new vote of confidence in the Philippine economic future had gone almost unnoticed, with the recent August 16 inaugural of the first branch of Handyman Do-It-Best home improvement center at Robinsons Starmills mall in San Fernando, Pampanga. The inauguration was attended by business people led by Robinsons Handyman Home Improvement Center (RHI) president Willy T. Co, and RHI senior vice president Robina Gokongwei-Pe.

The American-style hardware setup, the affordable and amazingly wide range of products of this new partnership between leading Philippine and American hardware groups will revolutionize the Philippine home improvement retail business, according to the 38-year-old Willy Co, an engineering graduate of UP. He said that they are bullish about the great future and vast growth potentials of the Philippine home improvement retail industry, especially with the continued expansion of RHI of the Robinsons retail group.

The fast-growing RHI chain of 31 outlets recently forged an alliance with Do-It-Best (DIB) Corporation, the world’s second biggest home improvement retail cooperative group with all member stores being equal shareholders, owners and partners. Established in 1945 with the original name "Hardware Wholesalers, Inc." in Indiana, USA, it is a unique cooperative with 4,400 members in 43 countries and with yearly sales of US$2.5 billion worldwide. The president of DIB is also himself a hardware entrepreneur, Robert "Bob" Taylor of the US. As member of this global cooperative, Robinsons Handyman will help the Filipino consumers gain unprecedented access to the multinational group’s over 70,000 products sourced worldwide, such as hardware, electrical, building, plumbing, kitchen and gardening.

Despite two other top Philippine hardware groups vying to join the Do-It-Best chain, the American giant chose to partner with Robinsons Handyman Improvement Center (RHI) due to its consistent track record of providing Filipino consumers with a complete selection of hardware and other home needs merchandise at the most reasonable prices and inside air-conditioned shopping malls. RHI itself is a partnership between Robinsons Supermarket chain and the Co family whose members have been in the Philippine hardware industry for over 100 years. Willy Co last year met DIB officials in the annual "National Hardware Show" in Chicago, USA, and after clearing with Robina Gokongwei-Pe, he conveyed the RHI invitation to do business in the Philippines.
Increasing Women Shoppers, More Than Just Hardwares
Engineer Willy Co explained: "RHI is more than just a hardware store. We sell small appliances, houseware products, kitchen utensils, garden products and many other items you don’t usually find in regular hardware stores. It is a wrong misconception that hardware outlets inside comfortable air-conditioned malls are more expensive. Our retail prices are very affordable and reasonable, because you do not have to haggle prices unlike in the traditional hardware shops."

The 31 outlets of RHI are strategically spread out nationwide. Due to the success of its first branch, Handyman Do-It-Best will open its second outlet in Robinsons Metro East Mall in Cainta on Sept. 22 and with plans for other new branches. Bullish on the future of the Philippine economy despite short-term difficulties, Co said that they envision a total of 50 branches of RHI and Do-It-Best combined in three years or by year 2005.

RHI officials revealed that its first Handyman Do-It-Best store was its showcase, so the construction costs and investments were four to five times higher than a regular Robinsons Handyman store. Almost everything from the products, the shopping carts, the fixtures, imported tiles, the check-out counters, shopping baskets, shelves and floor tiles were imported from the US. It was literally like moving an entire Do-It-Best store from the US to Central Luzon of the Philippines. For this first outlet, RHI brought in 2,700 new home improvement and hardware items from the US.

Who are the main customers of RHI and its new Handyman Do-It-Best retail outlets? Willy Co said: "Our customer profile is mainly those between 29 and 45 years old, and they are no longer mostly males. The reason for this increase in women shoppers is that our stores are no longer simply hardware shops, we have complete home improvement centers for your existing homes and for your new homes. Surprisingly, shoppers in the Philippines are becoming more knowledgeable and choosy; they now know more about quality than in the past. For example, if people bought powertools, they used to just ask for a powertool. Today, shoppers already look for specific details and ask technical questions. Compared to traditional hardware stores outside malls, here you can touch and compare different products."

Another distinction of Robinsons Handyman and its Do-It-Best outlets is the high level of customer service by the staff. RHI officials say their people are well-trained, that you can walk into a store, tell them your home problems, and the staff will assist you to look for the solutions. RHI officials added that some of their staff even go to the homes of customers to assist in installing the items without additional pay from RHI, but they usually earn additional tips and help win goodwill of the customers. For example, shoppers bought locksets, some RHI and Do-It-Best help install these in their homes. RHI and Do-It-Best staffmembers go the extra mile in their customer service commitment.
Always Copied, Dream Of 300 Stores Nationwide
When commenting on the increasingly intense competition in the home improvement and hardware business, Willy Co said of Robinsons Handyman and Do-It-Best: "We’re always being copied by others, but never equaled."

Despite the economic difficulties of recent years, RHI has amazingly registered fast and consistent growth every year. RHI officials unanimously expressed confidence and optimism about the retail industry of the Philippines. Willy Co said: "Robinsons Handyman Home Improvement Center (RHI) has been very resilient during the past period of economic difficulties. Even when the real estate industry went down, we were still OK and expanding. The reason for this resilience of RHI is that for people who cannot afford to buy new homes nowadays are instead making home renovations. Of course, we are optimistic and hopeful that the Philippine economy will sustain our momentum, so that more people will buy new homes."

The Philippines being America’s only former colony and the government’s all-out support for the global war against terrorism have endeared the country to American businessmen like Do-It-Best (DIB) USA director for international sales Tom Barfell. Coincidentally, RHI officials said that Barfell arrived in the Philippines to finalize the partnership on Sept. 11, 2001, the day Osama bin Laden’s Islamic extremists launched the horrific terrorist attacks on the US Instead of giving in to gloom, DIB forged its strategic alliance with Robinsons Handyman in order to create new businesses in the Philippines. Barfell said: "Our products and brands are well accepted here in the Philippines. We in the US have a long history of ties with your country."

How many hardware and home improvement stores are there throughout the Philippines? How many total Robinsons Handyman and Do-It-Best stores do the executives dream of opening throughout the archipelago? Willy Co replied: "There are an estimated 10,000 hardware stores in the Philippines right now. How many total number of RHI and DIN stores do we dream of establishing to service the country’s growing needs? Maybe 300 stores. Handyman is a local Filipino corporation and a local concept, Do-It-Best is an American and multinational name. The combination of both our strengths will help us serve the public better, offering them a bigger variety of excellent and affordable products."
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