Monday, April 27, 2009

The Belmont Story

Today, Cebu Belmont Incorporated stands proud as the only company that bagged an award as Outstanding Filipino Retailer in the regional category without any national presence, and in fact with only two stores in Cebu.

It took four decades of sinking and swimming for the family to finally ride atop the waves against challenges presented by time, politics, economics, and market competition.

Chester Lim, the eldest son of the founding couple Antonio and Josiefe Lim unravels the poignant tale of his parents’ individual lives that formed a strong synergy of passionate characters to build and grow a business.


“Let me tell you how my parents were driven by personal vows to rise from tough growing years and to keep the next generation from walking the road they have taken. In the story is also ENGR. FELOMINO ANG, (extreme bottom right photo), the brother of my mother who is VP for operations. His savvy for tinkering with power tools was instrumental in the fermentation of the success story of Cebu Belmont Inc. Then walk through the entire story with me from where it all began to this day.”

I am of the second generation of the family that laid the foundation of Cebu Belmont Incorporated. My parents Mr. Antonio & Josiefe Lim started it all in October of 1973. Thanks to them who started with all the difficult stuff, I and my siblings have come out living a better life and running the business a tad smoother than they ever did when they started out.

My father and mother grew up not from a proverbial wealthy family. Let me tell you each of their stories.

Antonio Lim: Survivor of Odds

My father was born in Dumaguete City. Apparently his mother was in transit to Butuan that time from Cebu. The boat that they were taking had to make an emergency stop in Dumaguete for my father was already eager to be born.

Moving fast forward, my grandfather passed away when my father was only 12 years old to be raised by his uncle in Divisoria.

My father had to work himself out at a book store in Divisoria and with the financial assistance of his Ninong or Koy Pe in Chinese just to finish high school. And finish he did at Chiang Kai Shek Chinese school.

Through college, he supported his studies by working at a paper mill.

He graduated no. 5 from a bachelor’s degree in Physics at Fiati University

In 1966, my father put up his first trading business selling Naphthalene blocks or deodorizers with an initial capital of P10,000. Half of which came from his cousin and the other half from his personal savings.

Limited capital brought him to explore a business venture in Cebu. There he formed a partnership with a former schoolmate at Chang Kai Shek.

Two years later, he decided to sever his partnership to form his own hardware business.

On October 18, 1973 Cebu Belmont Hardware Company was established along #66-68 Plaridel Street in downtown Cebu City.

Josiefe Ang-Lim:

Her staunch heart for success was borne from lessons of the past as much as her compassion for others’ needs

My mother was the second of four siblings. At an early age, her father suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed. This circumstance forced all the siblings to work at a very young age.

Generally, my mother was seen as the gutsy one among her siblings. She was always the first to volunteer to accompany my grandmother to go out and borrow money from relatives..

At times she went alone. She was scolded many times and cried under the humiliation of her own relatives whom she tried to borrow money from. You can just imagine how traumatic it was for a little girl who barely reached her teenage years. Thus, she never forgot those experiences enough to tell the story to us.

Somehow, I understood without her verbalizing it that she never ever wanted a repeat of those experiences either on herself or on any of us. This was usually the prequel to the lessons she imparted to us on the value of money and frugality.

She had been through hard times at a very tender age all the way to her maturing years. My mother was also a working student who earned her bachelor’s degree through her own hard work.

Marrying my father Antonio was like a blissful joining of kindred spirits—soul mates who shared the same vision, the same drive, and the same passion to rise above hardships.

Persevere. You will always encounter difficulties and challenges. I consider these small inconveniences in life but keep trying and be positive. Never be defeated.” That was the message my parents bequeathed to us.

Engr. Ang’s penchant for tinkering with power tools powered the success streak that saw the birth of a full-blown service center that eventually led to having Power Tools as the core product of distribution of the company.

Engr. Felomino Ang: His penchant for tinkering with power tools powered the surge of success

Then my uncle Engr. Felomino Ang came along to help the business in the mid 80's. He suggested incorporating power tools to our product lines.

My uncle who is an engineer by profession suggested incorporating power tools to our product lines.

At a start we could barely sell one power tool a week.

Nobody knew we were also selling power tools for that matter. Due to limited resources and credit facility, we were sourcing items from other established local hardware stores.

Being an engineer my uncle loves to tinker things. He started repairing power tools until customers kept coming and eventually the sales grew.

This prompted us to institutionalize the backyard repair section to a full blown service center. After-sales service was our key to keep customers coming back. Power Tools eventually became our core products.

Cebu Belmont Inc.: Taking a different take on facing setbacks

In 1989 we saw an opportunity to open another branch in Mandaue. My parents took the opportunity of the fact that there were no hardware stores in the area at that time and believed that opening a store there was a perfect idea.

Some people however doubted the move. At the store blessing, some of the invited guests actually verbalized discouraging comments about the location--which it was very far from the main business center.

Somehow this remark among others cut deeply into my parents. Yet, they treated it as a challenge... a stepping stone to work harder towards the goal they have envisioned together.

True enough the first two years were really difficult. To make matters worse the construction of the Mandaue overpass began to complicate the business in the area. Traffic was diverted and logically the sales were low for several months. This went on for three years before the store sales significantly improved.

Over the years more products were added. Currently Cebu Belmont Inc. is supplying various industries such as furniture manufacturers, small cottage industries, ship building and Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ) locators among others.

Other than the wide variety of products we offer, we put best efforts to consider the convenience of our customers. We redefined customer experience.

The ample parking space provides the initial convenience. Once inside the store, a customer is pampered by courteous and polite store personnel.

The store—a one-stop industrial and tool center twists the typical concept by having a coffee shop inside and efficient customer service desk with excellent programmes.

Belmont Mandaue today is a one-stop industrial and tool center that has become household name to many companies for its range of products and excellent customer service.

Delivering products on time is given a premium. On top of these are the business rewards and customer loyalty programs among others. All these are geared towards helping customers find convenient shopping and to assist in the affordability of all our products.

We kept on with such values even as we turned another milestone to close our Plaridel store and open our largest store along Legazpi Street…The Belmont Hardware Depot.

The new store is now located centrally in downtown Cebu City to meet shoppers from various points in the city for their industrial, hardware, manufacturing, household and even hobby supplies. The depot was designed to spell out a redefinition of convenience in every corner. Quite opposite to shopping in hot and stuffy stores to forage through dusty and disorganized shelves, the customer is made to feel like shopping at a department store under air-conditioned floors of systematically arranged products. A cafe/lounging area, the spacious parking spaces, efficient POS and security systems are just about snippets of the things that add to it all.

We began a new branding campaign that included a grand launching throwing in a signature jingle and taglines that would make the name “Belmont” a household name we envision to last for many more years to come.

A glimpse of one of the shopping aisles of Belmont. Below is the perspective of Belmont Hardware Depot in Legazpi Street, Cebu City.

Reaping the Rewards of Keeping Right

Last 2006 DTI was invited by the Hardware Consolidated in one of their meetings when the launching for the search for the DTI certified establishment was underway. Belmont vied for the award and duly complied with the requirements without really banking so much expectation. It actually came as a surprise when we were awarded CERTIFIED GOLD ESTABLISHMENT. This was for upholding consumer rights and ethical business practices. Among others who got the award were Metro Ayala, SM Department Store and Wellmade Motors.

Somehow, the award was a reflection of the values that we have been upholding in the company. We in the management always emphasized to our people higher standards in dealing with customers. We always strove to do the honest and right things no matter how difficult. This has been one of our greatest daily challenges in our business but we chose to take them on.

Last year, we received an invitation letter from PRA with the recommendation of DTI to join their search for OFR (Outstanding Filipino Retailers). We had mixed initial reactions to the letter. We felt that we didn't have a chance to qualify. As we have observed most of the past awardees have national presence. Belmont is presently the only company in Cebu with just two stores only—one each in Cebu City and Mandaue.

Nevertheless, we complied with the requirements needed to qualify. It is still quite a puzzle for our entire family as to how or why we got the award.

We just saw ourselves as a company in Cebu that does its own business in giving utmost satisfaction to customers, practicing good business values, complying government rules & regulations, and pretty much doing the best an ordinary and aspiring business could do on a daily basis.

All the overwhelming acknowledgments Belmont has been getting of late convinces us what has been now construed as a boring cliché, that it may be a hard road to travel when you do business right but the intangible rewards prove the greater reward when people remember you for giving them kind service or two to help them.


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