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Why the Tantocos stay on top of luxe retail |

Sunday Lifestyle

Why the Tantocos stay on top of luxe retail

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star
Why the Tantocos stay on top of luxe retail

Nedy Tantoco, Rustan’s chairman and CEO, beside the portrait of her mom, Rustan's founder Glecy Rustia-Tantoco

Let's start from the beginning. We know that the luxury retail giant Rustan's  was founded by Bienvenido Tantoco and Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco 65 years ago in a simple space on San Marcelino street in old Manila.

How did the store get its name? Looking at their names, the answer is obvious. But here's the story as told by the co-founder himself, Lolo Benny, now 96,to his grandson Donnie Tantoco, president of Rustan’s, during one of their regular conversations:

DONNIE TANTOCO: Who helped you come up with the brand name Rustan’s?

LOLO BENNY: It  was Jessie Bello. He was the head of marketing for the Rufino Group of Companies. We worked together so I asked for his help.

DONNIE: Wow, sounds like it did not cost you anything?

LOLO BENNY: We thought it was a good idea to merge our names. Since I am the man, Jessie Bello felt that my family name should come first and your Lola Glecy’s second. He made a logo.

DONNIE: Really? So what happened?

LOLO BENNY: Tanrus did not look and sound right so I asked him to make it baliktad.

DONNIE: And  then? 

LOLO BENNY: He used the same script and put the first three letters of your Lola’s name first, and mine last. It became Rustan. It was perfect!

Jessie asked me: Are you sure you want to put your wife’s name  first? 

I looked at the logo and kept repeating and comparing the sound of Tanrus versus Rustan. I told Jessie, yes! I am very sure!

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The truth is, that store itself wasn't really the very beginning of Rustan's , acclaimed as our version of Harrods of London. It all started when Benny and Glecy would travel abroad, buy beautiful trinkets and display them in their living room for their friends — and potential buyers — to see.

Glecy had that gift for retail that made this little store on San Marcelino expand to what is now the largest luxury chain in the Philippines of five department store branches and more than 2,000 brands licensed among the group, with Stores Specialists Inc. exclusively distributing brands such as Hermes, Gucci, Bulgari,  Givenchy, Ferragamo, Prada, Bottega Veneta and Burberry, among others. The chain also owns  luxury store Adora which was founded by Eman  Pineda and his mom Marilou Tantoco-Pineda. Branching into the food business, the Tantocos also have the USA’s Starbucks, TWG and Salad Stop! of Singapore, and Family Mart of Japan under their wing.

In real estate, Sta. Elena Golf & Estate is their flagship.

With the second, third and fourth generations manifesting that the retail magic lives on in the Tantoco genes, the group continues to grow and venture into new forays, even including affordable brands such as Payless.

Rustan’s pioneered in a lot of firsts in the retail industry, creating for itself a niche market — finicky customers who want quality and good service. Perhaps only Rustan’s will assist you from the time you buy a product till you get into your car.

Rustan’s was the first to encourage customers to touch and appreciate their merchandise. The first to offer free gift wrapping, a bridal registry, a shopping reward card, among others. It was the first to start a Filipino designer brand (Larrie Silva), and the first to open a Filipiniana department encouraging shoppers to buy "Our Very Own".

 Rustan's was the first to specialize in really good service and offer personal shoppers for clients.People who have been Rustan's loyalists within the past 65 years have a story to tell.

My own Rustan’s story lives on in the Italian vases and pitchers that I bought some three decades ago and are still pretty. And in a reversible Ferragamo long coat bought on sale at an unimaginably low price decades ago, still timeless. And a shopping experience as a pregnant shopper being asked by a salesgirl to sit and relax while she gathered everything on my shopping list.

And what are the stories of Rustan's owners and managers themselves? For Rustan’s sapphire celebration last Sept. 14, I asked them what thoughts and memories they had in mind as Rustan’s celebrates its 65th year:

MARITESS TANTOCO-ENRIQUEZ, Rustan’s board member: Go for the true, the good and the  beautiful. Those were Mommy’s words of wisdom before I left for my first buying trip without her. 

Like when I was buying for the toy department, she said, “Don’t buy a green dog stuffed toy because it does not exist. “

MARIO KATIGBAK, country manager, Hermes and Bulgari: I worked with Mrs. Glecy Tantoco and her daughter Marilen in Morocco to do buying for the shoe business . Then Marilen and I had to proceed to Milan for more buying.When we got to the hotel, there was only one junior suite available. So I slept in the living room and Marilen slept in the bedroom. In the morning, Mrs. Tantoco called the room registered in my name, and it was Marilen who answered the phone. Mrs. Tantoco was so shocked! 

DINA TANTOCO, Rustan’s marketing communications manager :When I first met Inno Sotto I was so star- struck, I was a mumbling mess.He was  a really cool guy and a great friend. I was fortunate to learn next to great designers like him, Natori, Tadashi, Rafe, to name a few. That was when I first started. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years! 

CRISELDA LONTOK, Rustan’s designer : Once, when all the merchandise  managers were asked to meet Ambassador  Benny and Mrs. Glecy Tantoco in Hong Kong,  she asked me to stay over for a few more days.  We went to  Pacific Place and while we were in the beauty parlor,  she asked for ice cream for me knowing that I love it.  Glecy always gave me special attention and I really appreciated that. She would even advise me on my personal life. When she passed away, I felt like I lost a mother who cared for me.  

Another time, she called for a meeting of all the merchandise managers in Manila. Before starting, she asked me to go up to check on the condition of my mother who had colon cancer, like her.  She really was so thoughtful.

KATHY HUANG: One  time we had a jewelry selling event in the store. Manong Donnie asked me to put on a pair of earrings to wear around the event, to showcase the jewelry. Everyone complimented how good they looked. A month later, my mother-in-law (Nedy Tantoco) gifted them to me for Christmas! Was it sheer coincidence? I like to think she went out of her way to research, she being such a gracious lady.

MIKE T. HUANG, Rustan’s vice president for store development: I always remember what my mom tells us. “Always treat people well and they employees or customers. We exist because of these people.” Words like these make Rustan’s what it is today.

KATRINA TANTOCO-LOBREGAT, vice president, Sta. Elena Golf and Country Estate: The 65 years of work, perseverance, and passion of my Lola Glecy and Lolo Benny. These are the things I hope to never take for granted and to help remind our kids of their roots. I am totally humbled to be part of this family.

Lola Glecy was a trailblazer — she was always a couple of steps ahead of others in the industry. I think this is one of the many reasons Rustan’s is and was a leader. From the way she lived, I am learning more and more that it is better to make choices based on our hopes and dreams rather than our fears. 

Lolo Benny teaches me through his life choices that family is always first. 

MENCHU TANTOCO-LOPEZ, president, Rustan’s Flower Shop: After marriage, when I felt ready to take a major assignment at Rustan’s, I was so glad that my mother made me in charge of the flower shop, since I really love flowers. What I didn’t realize was that she would always make us work extra hard and spend long hours at work. From Oct.15 to Dec. 24, the rule was: no overseas trips, for this was peak shopping time. She always told us: Be different. Always anticipate what customers would need and like.

ANTON HUANG, president, Stores Specialists Inc: What  comes to mind as we celebrate Rustan’s  65th year is what we are constantly taught: More then anything else, a strong work ethic and the value we place on our customers and partners 

MARILOU TANTOCO-PINEDA, Rustan’s board member: Rustan’s sapphire anniversary brings to my mind all the years my mom mentored me on hard work, and I was loving my work tremendously .

NEDY TANTOCO, Rustan’s CEO: Our family decided to celebrate our 65th anniversary to finally pay tribute to our mother Glecy and our father Benny. We feel so blessed to still have Dad with us — he’s 96 years old — 65 years after the incorporation of Rustan. They truly were great partners for this kind of business — she with her sense of great taste and daring, he with his support for her every endeavor. I fondly remember how we, their children, were brought in pairs during their buying trips abroad . For me, this was the best way to learn the business and a fun way to bond with our parents. Traveling with them was truly educational.





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Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook@milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at

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