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The En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year Philip­pines 2017 has con­cluded its search for the coun­try’s most in­spir­ing en­trepreneurs. En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year Philip­pines is a pro­gram of the SGV Foun­da­tion, Inc. with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of co-pre­sen­ters Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try, the Philip­pine Busi­ness for So­cial Progress, and the Philip­pine Stock Ex­change. In the next few weeks, Busi­ness-World will fea­ture each fi­nal­ist for the En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year Philip­pines 2017.

Rom­mel Juan Pres­i­dent Bi­nalot Fi­esta Foods, Inc.

ROM­MEL JUAN, 45, re­calls how his fa­ther would en­cour­age his chil­dren to go into busi­ness.

In col­lege, he tried his hand at var­i­ous en­tre­pre­neur­ial pur­suits, such as sell­ing t-shirts and a print­ing busi­ness.

This early knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence would prove in­valu­able when he estab­lished Bi­nalot Fi­esta Foods, Inc., now a lead­ing Filipino fast­food restau­rant and fran­chiser.

Mr. Juan is a Mar­ket­ing Man­age­ment grad­u­ate of the De La Salle Univer­sity and holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in En­trepreneur­ship from the Asian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment. He came up with the con­cept of Bi­nalot from child­hood mem­o­ries. “Our mom would pack our food, wrapped in ba­nana leaves and when you open it, there would be rice, adobo, salted eggs and toma­toes. We re­ally en­joyed it as kids, so that’s what I wanted to do,” he re­counts.

With just P50,000 as capital, he started a “guerilla op­er­a­tion” out of a rented apart­ment in Makati City. He and his part­ners dis­trib­uted fly­ers to gen­er­ate aware­ness of their food de­liv­ery ser­vice. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing or­ders, they would pre­pare the meals and then de­liver them to nearby of­fices. Af­ter their ini­tial suc­cess, he ex­panded op­er­a­tions by open­ing their first com­mer­cial store along Jupiter Street in Makati.

How­ever, the Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis hit in 1997. Sales started to de­crease and they were in dan­ger of clos­ing the busi­ness.

It was then that they were given an op­por­tu­nity to open an out­let at the Shangri- La Plaza fast­food court. For Mr. Juan, this was a defin­ing mo­ment, “If it works, we would con­tinue; if it doesn’t, then we’ll close it down,” he nar­rates.

For­tu­nately, Bi­nalot proved to be pop­u­lar to mall go­ers. The suc­cess of this branch en­cour­aged them to even­tu­ally di­ver­sify into a larger, dine-in fast­food restau­rant for­mat, open­ing branches in other malls. In 2004, they fur­ther strength­ened the brand through fran­chis­ing.

Mr. Juan de­scribes Bi­nalot as a food chain that merges the mod­ern fast­food restau­rant with tra­di­tional Filipino fa­vorites. Their sig­na­ture prod­uct is clas­sic Filipino com­fort food wrapped in ba­nana leaves in­stead of Sty­ro­foam packs.

This is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates them from com­peti­tors. Bi­nalot pro­motes the tra­di­tional way of en­joy­ing Filipino food and uses en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ma­te­ri­als.

While Bi­nalot has carved its niche in the fast­food in­dus­try, Mr. Juan has en­coun­tered stiff com­pe­ti­tion in the food in­dus­try.

“There will al­ways be the big play­ers and new play­ers com­ing in,” he said.

Bi­nalot’s cus­tomers in­clude the of­fice work­ers and young pro­fes­sion­als, as well as din­ers who look for con­ve­nience and af­ford­abil­ity.

Mr. Juan learned that in busi­ness he has to have the “3 Os”; the orig­i­na­tor, the op­er­a­tor and the or­ga­nizer. He is the orig­i­na­tor be­cause he came up with the vi­sion. He also has the right man­agers to make sure that stores are run well.

Bi­nalot prides it­self with its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) pro­gram. Typhoon Milenyo, which struck in Septem­ber 2006, left a se­vere short­age of ba­nana leaves in Lu­zon. Forced to look else­where in the coun­try for a re­li­able sup­ply of ba­nana leaves, even in in­clement weather, the Bi­nalot team came up with the idea of go­ing straight to com­mu­ni­ties in La­guna.

Af­ter bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the needs of the lo­cal com­mu­nity, Mr. Juan de­cided to set up the Dan­gal at Hanap­buhay para sa Nayon (DAHON) pro­gram to em­power the com­mu­nity and give a sus­tain­able liveli­hood, while ad­dress­ing his pro­duc­tion needs and strength­en­ing his sup­ply chain.

“When there are crises there are op­por­tu­ni­ties. The Asian Cri­sis brought us into the malls and with Milenyo, we were able to es­tab­lish our CSR pro­gram,” Mr. Juan said.

For its DAHON CSR pro­gram, Bi­nalot has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards such as the Cen­ten­nial Prize in the world­wide 2007 UPS Out- of- the- Box Small Busi­ness Con­test of the United Par­cel Ser­vice (UPS) and a Green Ap­ple En­vi­ron­ment Award from London-based Green Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Bi­nalot also re­ceived the Asian Fo­rum on Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (AFCSR) award for Best Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity Pro­gram in 2010, the In­telAsian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment Cor­po­rate Re­spon­si­bil­ity Award in Malaysia in 2010 and a Spe­cial Ci­ta­tion for Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity from En­tre­pre­neur Mag­a­zine in 2011.

Mr. Juan strength­ened the com­pany by in­vest­ing in a com­mis­sary that pro­duces ex­ist­ing Bi­nalot meal fa­vorites for all the stores.

In the next few years, Mr. Juan will look into new ways of us­ing ba­nana leaves as it is eco-friendly and biodegrad­able. He also wants to in­tro­duce other com­ple­men­tary brands un­der Bi­nalot Fi­esta Foods, Inc.

Mr. Juan says that his fa­ther has been his great­est in­spi­ra­tion who taught him the val­ues he holds to­day.

“I have learned that in busi­ness you have to be fast and de­ci­sive. You don’t al­ways have to wait for the per­fect time,” he said.

“You also have to learn how to get oth­ers to help you, be­cause you can’t do ev­ery­thing your­self.”

The of­fi­cial air­line of the En­tre­pre­neur of the Year Philip­pines 2017 is Philip­pine Air­lines.

Me­dia spon­sors are Busi­nessWorld and the ABS- CBN News Chan­nel.

Ban­quet spon­sors are Bench; Bounty Fresh Food, Inc.; CDO Food­sphere; Fiori Di Marghi; First Metro In­vest­ment Corp.; Global Fer­ronickel Hold­ings, Inc.; Hyundai Asia Re­sources, Inc.; In­termed Mar­ket­ing Phils., Inc.; Jol­libee Foods Corp.; LBC; SteelAsia and Uni­ver­sal Har­vester, Inc.

The win­ners of the En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year Philip­pines 2017 will be an­nounced in an Oct. 18 awards ban­quet at the Makati Shangri-La ho­tel.

The En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year Philip­pines will rep­re­sent the coun­try in the World En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year 2018 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2018.

The En­tre­pre­neur Of The Year pro­gram is pro­duced glob­ally by Ernst & Young.

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