Corn-y, but sweet story of success
- Cheeko B. Ruiz (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - This is a case where everybody wins: the company owners, the suppliers, the customers.

Recognizing the immense popularity of junk food snacks, one company is providing an alternative that would not only satisfy the taste buds but also provide nutritional value. Take a bite of sweet corn.

Registered in June 2009, the food cart business SWEET CORNer’s concept was simply “to sell everything made out of corn.” The business started with a single cart in SM North EDSA selling corn on the cob, shredded corn in cup, popcorn and sweet corn shake.

Fast forward to 2012, or barely three years later, and SWEET CORNer now has three company owned carts and 62 franchised outlets.

Bong and Cholly Magpayo, owners of SWEET CORNer, credit their business’ success to the following factors: one, their products are organically grown; two, these are ripened by nature; and three, these are sourced from Southern Mindanao, known as the corn capital of the Philippines.

“We started with a capital of P200,000, my savings from my salary when I used to work. It had been a must for me and my wife, being a growing family, to save at least 30 percent of my take-home pay since we were really bent on putting up a business,” he adds.

Bong says they source their raw corn directly from the farmers and they buy it at a price higher than what traders pay.

“We started as food cart franchisees, and we were thinking of coming up with our own concept. Incidentally, when we had our vacation in South Cotabato, I was able to talk to the president of a corn cooperative who confessed to me that they were being manipulated by the traders, assemblers and middlemen with regard the pricing of their produce,” he says.

“When traders said their buying price was only this much, even if it was below the market price, the cooperative had no choice but to sell to them, so they were on the losing end. We offered them an alternative market since we were planning on having our own cart. So, SWEET CORNer was born,” he relates.

Bong says buying directly from farmers also benefits the company and their customers.

“It is cost-effective on our part, we can get the corn at a cheaper price and sell it to our customers also at a lower price,” he says. “And of course, we get fresh harvest.”

Bong and Cholly Magpayo pose beside their food carts in SM Mall of Asia .

“Now, aside from the cooperative in Mindanao, we have partnered with SANGKAP cooperative, a farmers’ association based in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija, to further ensure the sustainable supply of our sweet corn,” he says.

Bong says his business sense was influenced by the family of his wife, who are businessmen.

“My wife’s family is based in Mindanao where there are not many jobs available, unlike in Manila. People there are left to fend for themselves,” he says.

Bong has a degree in Accounting from San Beda College and a master’s degree in Applied Business Economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific.

His wife, meanwhile, has a degree in Business Management from San Carlos University in Cebu.

His stint with the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) also helped him in his business venture.

“I used to work as a business development manager in PTA where I learned how to market a product. I was trained how to see the needs and wants of the market,” he says.

To this day, the three carts that they franchised from another food cart owner before they put up SWEET CORNer are still in operation.

“We believe that franchising is the safest entry business for first time entrepreneurs. According to a DTI study, franchising ensures 90 percent success rate,” Bong says.

“We are lucky that all our franchised carts are performing well. They are the best marketers for us.”

“In Luzon, shredded corn in cups is the most salable item, while in the Visayas and Mindanao, corn on the cob is the most sought after item,” says Bong.

“A good site is where people flow. This may be in front of the entrance, near the escalator, in the food court or near cinemas,” he says.

For those interested in getting a franchise, Bong says they need at least P230,000, inclusive of a standard cart, utensils, small wares, crew uniform, CGL insurance, training, marketing and site assistance, use of trade name and logo, initial inventory, operations manual and assistance in obtaining business permits.

SM North Edsa , SWEET CORNer products include popcorn, corn on the cob, shredded corn in cups, and sweet corn shake.

Bong also shares that SWEET CORNer is a proud member of the Association of Filipino Franchisers, Inc. (AFFI).

He cautions the public about the proliferation of fly-by-night franchisers, and advises would-be franchisees to get their permits from DTI-accredited franchising associations such as AFFI.

Bong says they dream of establishing SWEET CORNer’s presence abroad, and reveals that a partnership with a businessman in the United Arab Emirates is in the works.

“Like a job, you should find a business that matches your interest, something you want to do for the rest of your life,” he advises. “Second, look at your finances. Is it enough to put up the business or sustain it? If not, work hard first and save a lot. Also, there is what we call luck and I guess we all get this from praying to God.”

Bong says they have had their share of failures along the way.

“But we should never be discouraged by challenges. Failures are part and parcel of the journey. A good businessman will always be able to look for solutions to problems,” he says.

And he is right indeed, for as their company mantra goes, “There is sweetness in every corner‚” even in failures and struggles.

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