Retail Specialized, Art Democratized
In Raul Francisco’s case, the adage “Once bitten, twice shy,” doesn’t quite apply. At the age of 40, he candidly confesses to “losing everything” after his first retail venture Central Maquillage was forced to close down, a casualty of the 1997 Asian currency crisis.
“I had to rebuild everything all over again,” he recalls. “It was a horrifying journey as I’d felt so burnt out by retail.”
His entrepreneurial spirit took hold once more, though, and together with his wife Joanna Preysler, he ventured into retail once again, opening Carbon in 2001. “That took off. It was in Greenbelt, which was being repositioned at the time. Then we rolled out another concept, which we called Tint. We never really wanted to roll out a lot of stores, maybe because I was being cautious.
“My idea was to stay small and tight. With the influx of overseas brands in the market, I felt that if you don’t do something different, you’ll get swallowed up by the tsunami of foreign brands; you just have to look at the local retail scene now to know what I mean. And the foreign brands still continue to come in, so the landscape has completely changed. If you don’t have the muscle, like Bench or Penshoppe, who are going regional now… people who couldn’t adapt or adopt new business models pretty much got hurt.”
The same fate might have awaited Carbon and Tint had they failed to adjust to the new market realities. “We had to think differently. We did the Joanna Preysler boutique then opened Eterno. We said, let’s go upmarket and change our business model.”
Indeed, he poses an important question: “How do you out-H&M H&M? How do you out-Zara Zara? You can’t. So the idea was to go upmarket and target a small niche. That was strategically planned: to build relationships with this small niche of people who could actually afford to buy P150,000 bags. That’s a very select market. From there, we sort of migrated those customers back to Carbon. [First] they trust you with their bags, now it’s on to clothes, and now to art, with Provenance Gallery.
“You have to look at and connect the dots differently. Instead of the shotgun effect, so to speak, we did target shooting. We’re like Davids in a sea of Goliaths. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun.”
Francisco and Preysler took the same maverick approach to selling art. It’s a bit of a spanner into the retail mix, with Provenance Gallery opening 18 months ago. He admits that, strictly speaking, they are neither gallerists nor dealers, although the couple has been collecting art for years.
“The plan with the gallery was to create a platform for Filipino contemporary art on a global scale. Being in a mall within a luxury hotel, you have Filipinos, you have tourists, you have all the expats in the area… you get a lot of foot traffic here. We’re not an underground incubator type of gallery that’s like this secret destination. In fact, a lot of people frown upon promenade galleries like ours, being a gallery in the mall. But I think that if you talk to the artists, [you’ll find out] they want to be viewed by a wider audience, not just a select few. If you look at it more democratically, we’re bringing art to the people.
“It’s not about the [sale]; it’s about being able to show and being appreciated, from students all the way to serious collectors. I guess even when it comes to art, we’re trying to change the game.”
Raul Francisco of Provenance Art Gallery Raul Francisco takes a different route in expanding business