One of the country’s fast-rising businessmen Dennis Uy is bent on growing his food business following his acquisition in October last year of a majority stake in Conti’s Holdings Corp., operator of a 22-year old family-owned chain of bakeshop restaurants.
After all, Uy started out in the food business in his hometown in Davao.
Uy recently formed Eight-8-Ate, a company which will handle all his food businesses under an acquisition strategy. Aside from Conti’s, the company is wrapping up the acquisition of another brand which will be announced soon.
The goal is to list Eight-8-Ate in the stock market in three years and be among the top five listed multi-brand food companies in terms of market capitalization.
For Conti’s, the aim is to be the number one bakeshop restaurant in the country.
Uy’s hunt for a professional manager to head Conti’s and eventually Eight-8-Ate started last year when in one of his trips he met a fellow Filipino running the international business of Minor International, a Bangkok-based conglomerate and one of Asia-Pacific’s biggest in terms of market capitalization.
Joey Garcia was already a well-established restaurateur and hotelier helping grow Minor’s business when in meeting Uy, he was presented with an opportunity to return home after close to three decades of working overseas.
Garcia is now president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Eight-8-Ate.
With 32 years of experience in the food and beverage industry under his belt — 27 of which were abroad — Garcia started out as a service crew in a burger chain back in his college days in Pampanga to support his education. He then spent 13 years with a pizza restaurant in the Middle East in various positions before joining Minor International in 2005.
Garcia spent his 14 years at Minor International’s food division handling businesses outside Thailand particularly new markets, and in China where he was country manager for almost three and a half years. He also headed Minor’s international franchise in Southeast Asia overseeing Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
For Garcia, the decision to come back home and leave his solid expatriate position in Thailand took a lot of consideration.
He has had offers from companies in Singapore, Middle East and North Africa and even from the Philippines before.
But more than the financial gain, Garcia took Uy’s offer as a chance for him to give back to fellow Filipinos.
“People may not understand this but I have done a lot in making other people successful, I have handled and developed foreign employees but I have not done anything for my country.
I want to grow local talent, that is my advocacy,” Garcia said.
Recognizing that the decision to return to the Philippines means starting from zero, Garcia took Uy’s offer “because here I can create my own… I can actually build my own company, build a culture and bring in the talent.”
Previous offers would have entailed fixing problems of existing businesses.
Even at Conti’s, Garcia knew he would have to deal with an existing culture as this was a family business.
“But we have a brand with so much potential. The brand has a strong following; it has great products and the pricing is in the middle range…it is in a sweet spot,” he said.
For a business with low margins and where costs are high, Conti’s has to be efficient to maintain pricing.
“Our objective is to stay where we are in terms of pricing. It’s what we call affordable luxury,” Garcia said.
When Uy’s group came in, Garcia set out on an extensive learning from the Conti family to understand the brand. He also kept the second-generation of the founders in the leadership team, then created a five-year strategy to reach the objective of being the best bakeshop restaurant in the country.
“As president and CEO, I have the young, well-educated leaders who have the DNA of the brand and who have so much care for the brand. There is sustainability,” Garcia said.
The Contis still have 30 percent of the restaurant.
The expansion strategy for Conti’s is cluster development to address the logistics challenge associated with fresh bakery products. Conti’s currently has a commissary in FTI in Taguig.
The plan is to initially expand in Luzon with another commissary to be built in Pulilan, Bulacan to cater to branches north of Metro Manila and Central Luzon and all the way to Baguio.
Metro Manila and Calabarzon will be supported by FTI.
Garcia said the company will explore the possibility of expanding to the Visayas as the next cluster in the third quarter of 2020, starting with a supply chain.
“We want to make sure (we set up ) clusters not only for cost-efficiency but also to serve customers with the right quality of product,” he said.
“I have a mandate to grow the food group. The strategy is to expand through acquisition.
We are interested in companies with a strong brand equity; in brands that are already known in the market. Second, we want to make sure (the business we are acquiring) is scalable and is not niche. Anything that has P1 billion in revenues is a good acquisition , “ Garcia said.
Thirdly, the product should be good.
“People will come back not for the ambience, it is all about the product. Product quality is of utmost importance. Pricing is also critical because we don’t want to be in the premium and niche market,” he said.
Conti’s under Garcia is moving fast. In less than a year, he has opened 10 branches (including two which are relocation and renovation) .
Garcia said for now, Eight-8-Ate is focusing on maximizing the commissary, the back office, IT infrastructure and human resource while investing in research and development to improve existing products.
“We always benchmark our products… anything we launch will be better,” he said. For Conti’s, the benchmarks are the baked salmon and the mango bravo, two of the restaurant’s bestsellers.
Conti’s is also capitalizing on multiple formats for convenience and accessibility. Aside from the full-service restaurants, Conti’s introduced kiosks for takeout which will grow the retail side.
It will also open a new format in December at Udenna Tower in Bonifacio Global City
Garcia is also looking at off-premise formats such as delivery, catering and movable kiosks.
“We have mapped out a complete five-year plan. We want to be the leader in the bakeshop restaurant category but we have to grow not just in brick and mortar We have to touch more consumers and deliver that brand promise.
Conti’s is not just a product-driven concept… it’s more than that. We are not just selling food but we want to bring joy and be part of a celebration, be it big or small, of family and friends. We want to be able to deliver that day in and day out,” Garcia said.
Conti’s targets to hit at least P2 billion in revenues this year and double the business and revenues by next year. (I.Isip)