Robertson Sy Tan had been working for the family business for 20 years when, one day, while reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, he realized that he was the person being described in the book as the “poor dad.”
Tan worked very hard for the company and would often share his ideas with his boss but he often ended up not being heard. Just like the “poor dad," he always wanted to do what is right but would always clash with his boss on how the company should be managed.
After reading the book, he thought that he had to change his focus. He wanted to build something on his own so he would not end up like the poor dad in the future.
When Tan started planning for his business, he wanted to venture into something that he was already familiar with so he can increase his chances of success.
At the time, the family business that he was managing used to distribute consumer products to department stores, which includes automotive supplies.
He observed that the demand for car accessories was not yet fully covered. This gave him the idea of putting up a retail store that will cater to this particular market niche.
In 2004, Tan put up his first Blade store in Market! Market! shopping mall in Fort Bonifacio. The concept proved to be successful that Robertson expanded immediately to six outlets during the first year.
Today, Blade Auto Center is the largest car accessories store chain in the country with a total of 50 outlets nationwide.
Blade has been active lately in producing digital movies which the company shows for free in their YouTube channel as part of its marketing effort.
Some of the popular movies that they have produced include Dito Lang Ako and 12 Days to Destiny, which have gathered over eight million combined views to date.
How did Tan manage to grow his company to be the biggest in his industry? Here are the five business lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Roberston Sy Tan, founder of Blade Auto Center:
1. Develop long-term strategic vision
People who look into the future are more likely to succeed in business than those with a short-term outlook because they are willing to make present sacrifices for the long-term.
Having a vision helps you organize your priorities and manage your time and resources based on where you want your business to be in the future.
“When we started in 2004, it was the time when the economy was really, really bad. Fort Bonifacio was one of the worst places to start your business at that time, because everybody was telling me like, ‘How can soldiers buy radios from you?’ There was no traffic there,” says Tan.
“But our vision was for the long-term. We wanted to build a chain of stores and not just a single store. So three months after our first store, we kept opening stores at a time when no one was willing to expand.
Our goal was to build credibility by having presence in the market and be recognized as a market leader.”
2. Develop unique branding strategy
Having a brand strategy is more than creating a marketing plan that would distinguish you from the competition and communicate your services to your customers.
It is also about providing focus for your employees. A strong brand vision helps ensure that everyone in the company is working towards achieving the same goal.
“When we were starting the business, we had very little experience in retail and limited capital too,” he says. “It was always a huge uphill battle. I likened our difficult situation to (Andres) Bonifacio, who fought the Spaniards’ guns and canons with only itak or bolo. I used the bolo as a symbol of our fight and that is how our brand name became Blade”
“The inspiration from the KKK is the reason why we wear red all the time because the color inspires us to get ready for battle. Everyone in my company wears red as their uniform and I also wear red every day.”
3. Develop comparative cost advantage
One of the benefits of expanding a business is the cost advantages brought about by economies of scale.
As operations grow in size, most fixed costs spent on marketing and technology tend to fall on a per-outlet basis. Buying in bulk as a result of expansion also results in lower purchasing costs.
“When we were expanding with 13 stores, the suppliers could not ignore us anymore,” Tan says. “We were no longer a small player. Every time we order from suppliers, we buy in large quantities.
“We were able to haggle down the price and buy products at below wholesale prices. The savings that we get is passed on to our customers at very affordable prices.”
4. Develop customer loyalty through innovation
In order to build a strong customer following, the business must anticipate the needs of the market and be able to innovate its products and services to satisfy demand. Customers are more loyal to companies that constantly offer positive experience.
“On top of good pricing, we also provide good customer service,” Tan says. “For example, if you buy something from us and need our assistance, we can help install it in your car at the parking lot while you enjoy your movie, or your food in the restaurant inside the mall. By the time you are done with your shopping, your car is also already fixed.”
“Before, you had limited choices to go to whenever you need to get your car fixed,” he adds. “Most of the time people would experience the traffic, humidity or lack of parking spaces by going to these traditional shops.
“Some people would also worry that their side mirror may be stolen while the car is being fixed along the street. We have changed that by providing convenience inside the mall with uniformed service staff.”
5. Develop innovative marketing strategy
Being able to adapt to the millennial mindset of consumers without losing customer focus is an important ingredient to successful marketing.
“I have always enjoyed filmmaking,” Tan says. “And now, I have found a way to marry my passion to benefit our brands. I look at it more as a marketing tool rather than a for-profit venture.
“When you launch an ad campaign, you would have to pay the networks millions to air them. We modified that approach. We created stories and made them emotional and engaging. Films were uploaded on YouTube where audience can watch for free. And they went viral.”
“Our first digital film has over 3.5 million views now (12 Days To Destiny) and has a growing fan base. It is also being pirated and sold in DVD or download format. Almost the entire movie is a brand or product placement.
“Instead of us paying to air the film, through word of mouth and social media sharing of fans, we were able to use this as an ‘out of the box’ marketing campaign.
All of this is being done while the film industry is down and a lot of artist and production crew lost jobs. As least we are able to provide projects and help in our own little way.
“We also started Blade Radio Live. It is our daily show on Blade Auto Center YouTube and Facebook. We were able to widen awareness for our brands as a result of the movies because it helped us connect to customers that we could not reach through our traditional advertising means.”