From the kitchen comes a hot venture
Go to a five-star hotel or high-end restaurant in Metro Manila and chances are, you will find there the precise handiwork of Fabtech Industrial Inc., one of the country’s largest contractors and designers of high-performance kitchen systems that have to keep up with the frenzied pace of hotel and restaurant operations.
Among its clients are Manila Hotel, Solaire, Grand Hyatt, Marriott Manila, Okada Manila, City Garden Grand and Discovery Primea, which trusted Fabtech led by Wilson and Jacqueline Go to meet their end of a multi-million-peso contract to install all that they will need to keep topnotch food flowing to serve their exacting guests and clients.
That the 29-year-old Fabtech has grown to become one of the country’s leading suppliers of complete commercial kitchen solutions in the Philippines, with operations now expanding to other lines such as the Gelateneo restaurant and the cacao venture in Mindanao, still astonishes the husband-and-wife team, who started with little more than passion for cooking and infinite capacity for hard work.
Wilson Go, for instance, still winces at the memory of his having been abandoned by his parents, and left with his baby sister in the care of his grandmother living on Misericordia, who already had 18 children under her care and could hardly afford to be burdened by more mouths to feed.
Even at seven years old, the Fabtech chair already felt that he was a burden, thus he made himself indispensable by running errands for his aunts and uncles while doing good in his studies.
When he was sent to other relatives in San Pablo, Laguna, he first ventured into sales, peddling pan de sal and also frozen desserts produced by his grandfather, who had an ice cream factory, after school.
“I enjoyed it because I was already earning. It was around 1970. For every 10 centavos for the buko ice drop, I had 1 centavo. And at that time, I sold more than 100 a day. That was a lot then because the fare was just 10 centavos and Coca-Cola was 15 centavos,” he says, “I was selling in front of the Banahaw theater. It was fun because I could also watch the movies.”
When he went back to Manila for high school, he first got exposed to the trade that would become his life’s work.
His uncle was into kitchen equipment and manufactured ovens to make the breakfast staple, hot pan de sal.
Go’s uncle developed the stainless steel version of the brick oven, and manufactured it in a factory in Valenzuela.
Go learned all facets of the operation by working very closely with his uncle. He was the sales guy, helper, driver, warehouse man. He worked himself ragged but still set aside time for his studies.
But even then, it took him eight years to secure his degree in civil engineering from the Mapua Institute of Technology. He took night classes and at the same time, he sold pan de sal, making regular trips from the factory in Valenzuela to the Gocheco Building in Manila, where he had regular buyers.
“I was developed there in my uncle’s factory, and I was really a hard worker,” says Go.
It was while at work, selling kitchen equipment for his uncle, that he met his future wife, Jackie. She was helping out in a restaurant on Banaue in Quezon City and he happened to be there too, selling bakery equipment to her uncle.
“We met in the kitchen,” Go fondly recalls, adding that as they went through an old-fashioned courtship, he knew he had found his life partner.
He is thankful that even if he was earning very little at that time—P3,000 a month in the mid-1980s—with her earning more, she took a chance on their future together.
They got married and thought that they would continue working for his uncle. But it was not meant to be.
He was forced to leave the company and he was left gripped by anxiety. He did not have a lot of savings and was suddenly jobless with a young family to boot.
But that was also the moment that galvanized him and wife into venturing into their own business in 1988.
They had the right ingredients in place.
He knew everything about the business, had the contacts in the market while his wife had the passion for food, allowing her to know the needs of the potential customers better than he can.
And so they began as WKG Food Tech International Inc., a commercial food service equipment fabricator operating out of a small shop in Sta. Mesa, Manila.
Their first break came via one of Go’s contacts, who asked him if he could distribute the Mondial Forni line of professional baking equipment.
Jackie voted for the product because she believed that bakers would prefer it because of its superior quality and durability.
Fortunately, his contact who had long known about his perseverance and integrity gave him the deal and he immediately reaped dividends from that decision.
Go was able to sell seven sets of the bakery equipment to the Gaisano family, who was thinking about putting up an instore bakery in their malls as another way to differentiate their malls from those of the competition.
That was a new concept then and Go was only too willing to provide them the equipment that would do just that.
The contract was the biggest they got and he was fortunate to have received as much as a 90-percent down payment, allowing him to immediately secure the equipment and keep his rolling capital intact.
They got the equipment—the best for making different kinds of bread—in 1989.
By 1990, they helped install the first in-store bakeries of the Gaisano malls. These produced all kinds of bread like croissants and good old pan de sal.
They ended up doing more than just supply the equipment, for they also designed the kitchen, installed the equipment and then helped train the bakers.
“That was where we started. That was our first big project and I am happy that the bakeries are still there, like the one in Davao, General Santos and Ozamiz,” says Go, who got married to Jackie not long after the first bakery systems were installed.
That was followed by another big order, care of another former customer, Jolly Ting, who needed 20 units of kitchen systems for his food courts.
He and the Gaisanos became their wedding godparents.
That they put their faith in his fledgling operations he attributes to their experience working with him when he was still with his uncle.
Even then, he always put the customer first, even sleeping at the job sites to make sure that the job was executed according to their agreement.
“I was surprised that they just helped me. I did not expect that I would be given a big break so soon. But I realize that it is all about history, about how you prepare for the job. I was always with them when they were my customer, from beginning to end. They remembered that,” says Go, who was 27 when he struck out on his own.
Word of their reputation spread and while they encountered severe difficulties in the beginning, they persevered and overcame each financial and emotional challenge that came their way.
Looking back on the growth of the Fabtech group, Go says living below his means has been a big contributor as it allowed him to always have money left in the bank to grab at new opportunities.
He does not borrow money, he says, preferring to use internally generated funds to expand the group’s operations.
As an entrepreneur, he says his main business is really people. To make his company perform better than the others, he has to take care first of the needs of his people.
“My job is to take care of them. We believe in the continuous development of our people. Like our technicians, many are out-of-school youth. We provided them training and upgrading and in a short time, they were earning the typical salary of someone from the middle class. We always give them opportunities to grow,” Go says.
Meanwhile, the group’s engineers who are deployed to install the expensive kitchen systems for hotels and restaurants are sometimes sent for further training abroad so they can help change the standard in the industry.
“With us, even technicians are sent abroad. We like developing young ones. Hopefully later, they can grow and develop to become directors in our company. But if they do leave for abroad, then they carry our training with them,” he says. “Like one of our people had zero skill in baking, but right now, I consider him one of the best bakers out there. If you give them the skill, the opportunity, then they will grow. If they feel valued, then they will stay,” he adds.
Fabtech’s list of customers is not long but more important to the couple is the fact that some of them have been with the company for years.
For Wilson and Jackie Go, the secret to their success lies in having a mutually beneficial relationship with customers.
“We go beyond the usual business because that is the way to build loyalty. We are also not just about trading. We value the quality. That is why we are proud that up to today, most of our customers still use the equipment we did for them, like the ones in the commissary and hotels. We promise them that if they buy from us, we are there to help keep their facilities in top condition. We treat them like family,” he says.
Go cautions entrepreneurs against being tantalized too much by a potentially big project that they would risk taking shortcuts to get it, such as paying a bribe or even sacrificing the profitability of the project.
“I have learned to not chase after projects for the sake of having them. Sometimes, those would turn out to be your downfall. Also, do not sacrifice viability just for the sake of winning. All projects have to be profitable,” stresses Go.
Today, Fabtech has taken its years of experience in kitchen design to the next level and provides consultancy services to the developers, helping them design and plan entire kitchen systems. It bids for projects, but it is often contracted directly by owners, by force of word of mouth endorsements.
As Fabtech says, its strength lies in its ability to combine its passion for food with sound engineering expertise.
“Our plan is to eventually go after projects outside the Philippines,” says Go, “We believe we are financially and technically strong enough to do that.”
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