The Philippine Star
How fledgling gasoline vendors built an independent oil company in Laguna
Stepping into the humble office of United Marz Petro-Chemical Trading, Inc. (Marz Fuel) in Calamba City, one can hear employees talking about clients whom they refer to as “investors.” After speaking with the owners — Edgar “Ed” Marquez and Jerico “Jake” Sison — one confirms the new but robust company’s desire to help other Filipinos empower themselves and succeed, just like Marz did.
From two sidewalk stalls retailing gasoline in one-liter softdrink bottles in 2012, the young company now powers up 31 branches in Calabarzon, growing by an average of three stations per quarter.
“Others say that one has to be diligent, persevering and frugal in order to succeed. For us, it is not that true. We believe in ‘ability.’ You don’t even need a college degree to succeed in business; Jake and I weren’t able to pursue college. But because of ‘ability,’ we were able to establish our company,” says Marquez, a husband and a doting father of three.
After closing his meat processing business following the 2008 Asian Financial Crisis, he was left with only P500.
“I bought a container of fuel worth P500 from one of the ‘Big 3’ fuel companies and saw that there were some selling that by bottles. So what I did was ask them if I could supply them fuel. I was very happy when I earned P20 from my first sale.”
One of Marquez’s customers was Sison, who would buy volumes for his two retail stalls, one located in front of his small sari-sari store in Calamba. Each stall consisted of a small table to carry the fuel-filled softdrink bottles and an improvised hose for refilling. These were the ones that catered to jeepneys, tricycles and motorcycles in provincial highways, back when there were a few gas stations offering promos and discounts.
Sison, also a father of three, responds, “Before I met Mr. Marquez, I would go to a nearby gas station and buy fuel at a P.75-discount per liter. In one week, I could avail of 300 liters. Then, Mr. Marquez approached me and offering a bigger discount, and I accepted. At the time, I could sell 500 liters a day.”
Marquez didn’t have enough capital to buy volumes of fuel, but Sison trusted him his money worth 2,000 liters of fuel. “To gain his trust, I immediately delivered his order,” the former quips.
After a year of supplying fuel to Sison, the new business partners took a leap of faith and risked re-opening an abandoned gas station in Pila, Laguna, with the financial help of friends and relatives. Despite being warned that all the companies that rented the gas station had failed, they pushed through, offering products that were P.50 lower than the market price and focusing on high-quality service. Marz was the first 24-hour gas station in the area.
The Pila branch, the company’s first seal of success, still exists today.
“When you’re buying fuel, you usually disregard the service. But we really invest in the service,” explains Marquez. “First, we have a very spacious and clean comfort room. Second, we regularly offer promos so that customers would come back to us. Third, the relationship of our attendants to the customers — we have special trainings and marketing efforts for them.”
Sison speaks on the profit margin, “As far as we know, there are franchises who only have a profit margin of P1.75 to P2 per liter. But they are usually from the Big 3. Independent players like us can gain at least P8. However, it still depends on the location of the gas station.
Marz also targets to increase its branches to be able to import oil from the Middle East or Singapore through its own barge, which requires a minimum of 20 million liters.
“For the gas price, it’s fair enough. We usually set the price P.50 lower than the Big 3. We can’t have a price that’s too low. What we have here is great service. We have to make sure that we always have the supply of our products. The customers should know that we are always complete,” Sison furthers.
“Our life before and our life today are too different. When I was still attending a sari-sari store, I had to wake up early to open the store and close it late at night. Today, we attend to the gas stations and leave that at 5 p.m. Many have changed. Now, we have more time with our children, and we can send them to schools. Unlike before, we were so focused on our store. Now that we have our own company, we have skilled employees who are helping us develop the company,” shares Sison. His sari-sari store now has a
bigasan (rice retailing business) that his father-in-law manages.
Marquez, meanwhile, admits that his former family business was a lot easier to manage. “Why? Because before, only your family is dependent on you. Today, the almost 200 staff of Marz Fuel depend on us. Those 200 employees also have their own families. So, if there’s five members in each family, almost 1,000 people are directly dependent on Marz. Our responsibility has become bigger; it’s really our target to widen and strengthen Marz Fuel because of these dependents. We want to help more Filipinos who are looking for jobs.”
“Our vision is that if we can open 40 branches this year, we will attempt to double it next year. The more gas stations we establish, the more we can help our people. We also have regular contractors; one of which enables 50 construction workers for every gas station being built. We cannot afford to stop this program because it helps a lot of people.”
At present, Marz offers franchises ranging from as little as P2.3 million for the 200-square-meter Mini Marz to 700-square-meter stations worth P8.8-million. “In the near future, we will pursue a secondary license, so we can have an initial public offering (IPO), albeit non-listed. We just want to add more branches and help more people.”
With the secondary license, Marz can welcome co-owners for as little as P20,000 per share, an investment that will last for 25 years. Through co-ownership, the company can also establish two to three stations in a month or so.
The business partners also expressed their amazement at business-savvy millennials, who compose half of the company’s franchisees. “Those who were born in the ‘70s were not used to doing business. During our time, we didn’t know investments because, unpleasant as it may sound, our parents didn’t teach us about it. But now, you can see a lot of millennials skilled in investments and business. Sometimes, it amazes us that there are students who are investing already,” Marquez exclaims.
With all the things falling into their proper places, Marz Fuel now believes that in growing a business, one doesn’t only need ability, one also needs a strong purpose.