Financial Adviser: 5 Business Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn from the Founder of Hen Lin

It's never too late to start working on your dreams.

Success in business has no age limit.

Because no matter how old you are, there is always an opportunity to learn something new and achieve your goals in life.

Such was the case of former insurance executive, Mariano Manas, who was already 46 years old when he stumbled on an opportunity to sell affordable authentic Chinese dishes in his neighborhood in Parañaque

Manas, who likes to eat siopao and mami in his younger days, initially traded his food supplies by buying wholesale from a Chinese restaurant in Ongpin and sell it in his store.

But a few years later, Manas realized that it was no longer efficient for him to continue trading when he opened his second store in SM supermarket in Makati, which became highly successful.

Manas decided to learn how to make his own product with the help of a Hong Kong chef, whose expertise was instrumental in creating authentic Chinese flavor of his delicacies.

In the late 1980s, the SM group was just beginning to expand its mall developments. The onset of the “malling” phenomena in the 90s opened the doors for Manas to expand his stores network.

Today, 36 years later, Manas is one of the largest operators of siomai and mami foodcarts in the country with almost 300 operating outlets.

Hen Lin, which Manas named after his two children, Henry and Lyn, is one of the most recognized and trusted local brands in affordable Chinese delicacies.

How did Manas sustain the growth of Hen Lin for more than three decades despite the challenges of growing competition in the market? What were his strategies to keep Hen Lin stay relevant in a rapidly changing consumer demand?


Here are the 5 business lessons every entrepreneur can learn from the founder Hen Lin, Mariano Manas:

1| Know how to target your market

When you narrow your marketing focus on specific demographic, you can develop products that will appeal most to your market, allowing you to develop an overall competitive advantage.

“There are many fine dining Chinese restaurants that you can go to and the prices of their siomai are very expensive,” Manas says. “The ordinary people can not afford this kind of siomai that they are serving.

“But my personal gratification was to be able to have ordinary people have a taste of real siomai and make it affordable. Where can you buy authentic siomai at 40-plus pesos compared to those siomai from five-star hotels where the price is around P180?”

“I imagine that if I make one peso per siopao at that time, I can make P30 if I sell 30 pieces. I can make P300 pesos up to P7,000. That’s the thing that motivates you. So I started selling to the supermarkets, to schools and then to SM where kept opening new outlets.”

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2| Know how to differentiate your product

If you want to make your product stand out from the crowd, you must create an aura of authenticity around your product. Studies have shown that consumers value products with meaningful qualities.

“We try to keep the quality of our products,” he says. “We never use extenders. There are others who buy chicken bones where they turn it into extenders by crushing it. It helps lower the costs of the meat but we don’t do that.

“We use selected meat. We make our siomai authentic so that when you eat it, it is like you are eating from an authentic Chinese restaurant.

“For a while we wanted to compete head on but because our competitors offered their siomai at very low price price and low quality too, we had to stop. We just concentrated in offering quality products at reasonable prices even it is a little bit higher than the competition.”

3| Know how to innovate your products

Continuous innovation allows you to stay relevant in a competitive market. When you innovate, you come up with new ideas that help you become more efficient through lower costs and higher productivity.

“A business is like water,” Manas says. “When it becomes stagnant, it becomes stale and filthy. It must flow to continually, so it gathers no moss. A business that does not innovate becomes obsolete and will be left behind.

“This is why at Hen Lin, if and when necessary, we continue to change and improve our menu, designs and procedures. At 82 years old, I still get more involved in my business in many ways. I enjoy innovating new ways to improve our products. For example, we now use machine to produce layered hopia. It feels good when you innovate something new.”


4| Know how to add value to your partners and customers

There is a saying that you can convert your fans into your customers by adding value to what you do. If you improve the quality of your product without necessarily increasing your price, you can increase customer loyalty.

In the same way, you can strengthen your relationship with partners and suppliers if you are transparent in your transactions

“Aside from loyalty, sincerity and honesty are important to business, he says. “You have to be honest in all your dealings. That’s one of the business philosophies that we follow.

“We have to make sure that when you buy from me you get value for your money in a way. We don’t shortcut, we don’t cheat, we don’t use extenders.

“Also, you have to be honest with your business partners. I can tell you all these 40 years with them I never took advantage of anyone.”

5| Know how to invest for the future

The goal of every entrepreneur is to become financially independent.

One way to achieve your financial goals in life is by being able to invest your savings at a growth rate and timetable you desire.

“You know we are really blessed,” Manas says. “When I compare myself with my colleagues, most of them are just living on SSS and retired, while I am still here keeping myself busy.

“From the very start, I tried to avoid spending too much so I created a built-in safety way of saving money. I bought properties on installment basis where I could deposit extra money regularly so that over time, my savings can create incremental value.


“You can buy anything from raw land, commercial lot or a condominium on installment. When you are paying on installment, you are forced to save. Don’t spend more than what you earn. It takes sometimes discipline to do that.”


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Henry Ong
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