These cool guys have sole

The sole academy: In the back row are Carlo Trillo, marketing director; Ed Pasion; and Mark Reyes; (seated) Mike Maglipon, operations director; Jojo Hizon, merchandising director; and Martin Reyes Photos by GEREMY PINTOLO

These cool guys have sole

10 THINGS (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2017 - 4:00pm

Love for sneakers, passion for basketball, and the desire to make rare and hard-to-find sneakers accessible to the Philippine market — that is what brought them together. Meet Mike Maglipon, Jojo Hizon, Carlo Trillo, Mark and Martin Reyes and Ed Pasion. They are the six men behind Sole Academy, the first multi-brand lifestyle sneaker store in the country. As they celebrate their sixth anniversary, they share 10 lessons they’ve learned about life, business and staying on top of the game.

1 A pair of sneakers can change your life.

It may sound dramatic, but that is how it was for them.

“We were set to play against Ateneo in the UAAP,” says Carlo, who was then playing for De La Salle Zobel. “I remember walking out into the coliseum wearing the Jordan 14s my mom bought for me abroad, and it made me want to give my best in that game and every game after, to show Mom how thankful I was.”

“When I was in grade school, I never had the luxury of owning more than a pair of sneakers,” Jojo shares. “Kapag nasira, ‘yun lang ‘yung time na pwede akong bumili ng bago, so I would always borrow from Mike. Then he would say, ‘Sa iyo na ‘yan.’ When I graduated from college, I worked with Nike, so the roles reversed. I was now the one giving him pairs.”

2 It is important to give the customer a total experience.

For them, it’s much more than just carrying that exclusive, highly coveted shoe. “When you enter our store, ‘Wow, it smells good,’ ‘Hey, the music is really good,’ ‘Ganda ng service dito.’ There’s no opportunity for them to go to any other store anymore,” Ed explains. “We call you by your first name, our staff goes on their knee to fit the shoe on you and lace it up. Or when you enter a Sole Mini store, you’ll see a shoe pit. The kids play and try on shoes in the pit, and the parents can enjoy looking at and feeling the product.”

3 Your most memorable shoes have stories attached to them, and that makes them more valuable.

What are the most important shoes for sneakerheads?

Jojo: Nike Hyperdunk and Hyper Rise. “My last shoe before I left Nike. We collaborated on special pairs for the UAAP. White-based, but the shoelaces were the colors of the teams.”

Carlo: YeezyBoost 350 Turtle Dove. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think the Philippines would get allocation to that, and this group paved the way to bring those types of sneakers here in the country.”

Mike: Air Jordan 2. “One of the first Jordans that I had, and there were only very few who had it back then.”

Mark: Nike Air Unlimited, which he used when he played for Ateneo in the UAAP.

Martin: Nike Kobe Big Stage, which he used when he played for UP in the UAAP.

Ed: Charles Barkley Air Force. “It’s a classic.”

4 Growing pains aren’t only in the beginning — it’s part of the daily grind.

“Those growing pains are even up to now! It’s just that you learn from your mistakes, you get better with each day,” Carlo says.

“Handling retail is hard,” Jojo adds. “Handling different personalities is hard. Handling different brand interests and expectations is also hard. It’s an ongoing battle between brands, between consumers, and internal as well.”

“The retail game is far different from any other business,” Mike explains. “You blink, someone takes your spot. You blink again, and your competitor has four more stores. Two hours from now, the next new color is coming up and your all-black shoe is no good anymore. You literally have to keep updating and reinventing yourself.”

5 Take your time in solidifying who you are as a brand.

“We just wanted to open a nice-looking store, without thinking if we were going to expand. It was more like, ‘Hey, cool, we have a store! Boys, go to our store!’ It didn’t make sense!” Mike shares. “The products didn’t make sense as well. We had basketball shoes here, running shoes there, it was a mix and match of items that didn’t really define what a lifestyle store is. But we learned, we listened, and after a year or two, we discovered who we are, and we knew what we wanted to be.”

6 How do you make “everybody happy”? Equal opportunities.

As a multi-brand store, they deal with different partner brands day in, day out, and have to meet all their clients’ expectations.

“It’s equal opportunity, and also being transparent. They have to be transparent with us, too, in terms of their plans for the Philippines, and we tell them how we plan to help them achieve that.” Ed says. Mike adds, “There are 30 days in a month, and each brand would want to have a big release on a specific day. Our job is to make sure that Brand A gets this weekend and Brand B gets this other weekend. That is one way to manage their expectations.”

7 Prepare like an underdog, attack like an alpha dog.

“With all these competitors coming in, how do you remain on top? Prepare like an underdog, attack like an alpha dog,” Carlo explains. “The way I look at it is, if you come prepared, attacking like an alpha dog is easy. You’re the leader of the pack, and everybody follows. You set things to your standards. But once you set that, others are able to replicate. So you have to set yourself apart again and take it a notch up.”

“It can no longer be just brick and mortar. We already have our online channels, we’re developing our app, our mobile store. The global average of consumers who shop online using their mobile phone is 20 percent. The Philippines is at 82 percent! We’re preparing ourselves for the change,” Ed says.

8 Nothing beats having a personal connection with your customers.

“There was a kid who started buying from us when he was in Grade 7. Now he’s second-year college,” Jojo shares. “His name is Wax. He’s very, very loyal. To the point that he wears Sole Academy shirts to school, he wears our lanyards, he has the sticker of Sole Academy on his phone, so people think he’s the owner! One time, his car broke down, our team helped him push his car, and that really had an impact on him.”

“There’s even a group, they call themselves SAF, the Sole Academy Faithful,” Ed adds. “They have shirts, they go on outings and travel together already. And they bonded through Sole Academy, when they would camp out overnight before a big release.”

9 You have to do your homework. You have to cover your bases.

In 2015, an estimated 800 people crowded in front of a 90-square-meter store, all trying to get their hands on the much-coveted Yeezys — that were finally available in Manila.

“There was a case filed against us for emotional damages,” Ed reveals. “He was the last person to get inside the store, and the person before him got his size already,” Mike recalls. “We could’ve handled it the easy way, like to give him shoes or gift certificates, but we stand for something. It’s about the dignity that we want to uphold in this industry. We eventually won the case, and he sent his apology letter. Everything has been resolved. We realized that the things we sell really have importance to people. In another country, somebody actually shot someone for that shoe.”

“After that we had to regroup,” Mike says. “To manage customer expectations, we put stop gates in all divisions. Operations, marketing, store ops, internal ops, brand relations. It was a full course meal of lesson after lesson.”

10 You get a lot of things from starting sports at an early age, but the number one thing is learning teamwork.

Some say you should never get into business with friends, but they work to make it work. “You put six guys together, that all played basketball, who know how to work as a team, who are all passionate about their product — for me it’s a perfect storm,” Carlo says. “It’s also knowing your role,” Ed shares. “Our discipline in basketball is if you’re a guard, or a center, you have a specific role. Putting that type of discipline into business, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that makes the six of us function as one whole body.”

Jojo ends the conversation with these nuggets of advice: “First, be focused. We all have different things going on, but be focused on what you want to achieve. Next, trust your instincts. And lastly, you have to be confident with your plan. Before you roll out your plan, you have to believe in it 100 percent.”

 

 

 

 

* * *

Message the author @iamsuperbianca

 

 

SOLE ACADEMY IN NUMBERS

68: Total number of staff members. When they started, they had only seven

270,000: Number of Instagram followers, the highest for any multi-brand lifestyle sneaker store in all of Asia

4: Number of Sole Academy branches (in BGC High Street, Alabang Town Center, TriNoma, and UP Town Center), and 2 Sole Mini branches

(in BGC and Greenbelt 5)

420: Number of square meters of their all-new headquarters in Paranaque

 

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