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Financial Adviser: 5 Business Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Founder of Wilcon Depot William Belo

Business tips from Belo the king of the local home improvement industry.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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Many people aspire to have financial freedom but never achieve it because they are not prepared for the task.

When William Belo was offered the opportunity to help out at the hardware store in Santa Cruz, Manila that his father partly owned, he chose to work full-time and study part-time.

Belo had always wanted to become an entrepreneur, so when the offer came to work in the family business, he took it as a chance to train himself and develop his skills.

Once Belo completed his college degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Santo Tomas, he also graduated from learning how to manage and run a hardware store.

Determined to start up his own business, Belo put up his own hardware store, which he named after himself as William Construction, or Wilcon, in Quezon Avenue.

The experience that Belo acquired from helping in the family business enabled him to grow his small hardware, which started as a 60 square meter store and expand through the years.  

Today, Belo is arguably the king of the local home improvement industry, with Wilcon Depot being the largest retail chain of hardware stores in the country.

As of December 2020, Wilcon Depot has a total of 63 stores nationwide with each store averaging 9,250 square meters in size, contributing total sales of P22.6 billion.

Wilcon Depot is also one of the best-performing companies in the Philippine Stock Exchange, with a total market capitalization of P78 billion today, an increase of almost three times in value from 2017 when it was first listed.

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What lessons can we learn from William Belo who successfully put up his own business at a young of 27 years old? How did Belo manage to grow his business to be the largest player in the home improvement market?

Here are the five business lessons every aspiring entrepreneur can learn from the founder of Wilcon Depot, William Belo:

1| Learn how to manage the ins and outs of the business before launching your startup

Knowing about a business is more than knowing about its products and services or creating marketing and selling strategies.

It is also about understanding the processes, learning and gaining experience and planning for the future.

Belo was willing to learn the nuts and bolts of managing a hardware store. Over the years, he has learned how to deal with suppliers, talk to customers and manage finances. The skills that he acquired from experience have prepared him to launch his own hardware store.

“That was my idea when I accepted the job,” he says. “I wanted to start something after graduating. Usually after college we want to find a job, then after that we want to settle down. I thought that if I will follow that, there will be less chance for me to start a business. So, while in college, I planned to start working and gain experience right away.

“After working there for five years, I was already running the business by myself. Actually, at that time, my employers did not allow me to resign. They wanted me to continue managing the business so I stayed for two more years.” Belo explained how his seven years of experience prepared him to start his own hardware store.

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2| Learn how to manage and finance the business creatively

It is not easy to raise capital when the business is in a startup stage. Banks do not lend money to businesses with no solid track record, but there are many alternative sources of financing that an entrepreneur can explore. 

When Belo put up his own 60-square meter hardware store in Quezon Avenue, his father decided to sell his share in a business partnership to help finance Belo’s hardware startup. The inventories that his father brought to the business served as Belo’s initial capital.

“The total amount was about P100,000, so the agreement was when I get out totally of the company, my father who used to be a passive investor, needs to sell his shares back to his partners. He would be paid by withdrawing the stocks from the store against his equity.”  

3| Learn how to differentiate and innovate 

Differentiation enables a company to thrive in a competitive market by developing a unique niche in the marketplace.

By differentiating, a company can focus either on lowering its costs without diluting its product value, or improving quality of its product.

Belo thought of differentiating his product by improving its quality and offering more choices to customers at affordable pricing.

“During that time, people were not very particular about house improvement,” he says. “It was enough that you have a functional toilet bowl. Each house has one or two toilet bowls. So, I asked myself, how can I sell more if I will just sell toilet bowls?

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“During the ‘70s up until the ‘80s, the product choices were limited because there were only a few manufacturing companies of ceramic tiles and sanitary wares. When the government allowed importation, we gradually expanded our products to imported items. We started importing high-end items to complement our local items. Somehow, I was able to revolutionize the bathroom industry.”

4| Learn how to develop the organization with the right people and functions

A growing business needs to find an efficient way of doing things. Developing the organizational structure of a company as the business expands can help increase productivity, as well as raise employee morale.

When Belo started the business, he had only three people to support him—his two cousins and a helper. He hired more people as his business grew.

“The beauty of managing our business is we started very small so our payables were limited,” Belo says. “Our collection was also limited. Everything went through you, every single collection and payable. As the business grew, I learned to hire people who can help prepare and do mechanical tasks such as recording payment, sales and reporting to the BIR.

“After sometime, as the business expands, our people are promoted to higher function and new hires are trained to handle the tasks they passed on. This is why we pride ourselves that about 99 percent of our managers come from the ranks.”

5| Learn how to connect with customers

Branding is about positioning your product in the minds of the consumers. Belo positioned Wilcon Depot as a total solutions provider, being the preferred brand for home improvement needs.

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“We provide personalized service,” he says. “We train our people to be really well-versed. You can come to our store and try to ask something so you can experience our service. In the US, if you go to their warehouse stores, you won’t see so much staff to assist you because you will find the store selling mostly Do-It-Yourself items.

“In our case, we treat our customers with personalized service. You will see in our stores that we have a lot of staff waiting to assist you.”

Henry Ong, RFP, is an entrepreneur, financial planning advocate and business advisor. Email Henry for business advice [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @henryong888 

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