‘You can’t just follow the norm–you’ve got to break it’
Nestor J. Padilla, whose illustrious real estate career began with a yearning to “fix” parking lots in the ’90s, is definitely on a roll.
After all, the “bloody banker” turned developer continues to successfully lead the Lopezes’ Rockwell Land Corp., helping create what are now regarded as “structural masterpieces and landmark developments,” located mostly within the highly prestigious 15.5-hectare Rockwell Center.
The upscale realty developer has shown no signs of stopping too, as it has recently ventured into new property projects in Ortigas, Santolan and New Manila.
Padilla however admits that things have gotten more complicated; competition has become more stiff and developers are more aggressive; while challenges have spun bigger, more difficult and perhaps, trickier.
“Fixing the parking was the easy part…Twenty years ago, that was the easy part when the standard was whatever it was,” Padilla notes.
“Since then, everybody has improved. Now everyone’s standard has gone up. If nobody then was taking care of landscaping, now everybody wants landscaping to be a major focus of their development,” he further explains.
Padilla, who used to work as a money market trader, joined Rockwell Land in 1995 after the late Eugenio ‘Geny’ Lopez, and siblings Oscar Lopez and Manolo Lopez asked him to help create a company that can deliver intelligently planned and calamity-proof developments.
What convinced Padilla then was his observation while on a trip in Cebu: “I’ve seen the developments of the biggest developers here in town and they still do the parking lots the same way they used to do it. I’ve been gone for how many years by then, it was already 20 years. So I figured, if they haven’t upped the ante, upped their standards, we can easily beat them by just doing a better standard. I just used the parking lot as a benchmark and the rest, as they say, is history.”
While Rockwell has satisfied its niche market’s need for projects that evoke prominence, prestige and respect, the company knew it had to go beyond its comfort zone if it wanted to stay competitive.
“Rockwell’s positioning is so limiting and we realize that every time we get approached by people who either want to partner with us or sell their properties to us but which we can’t accommodate because there are only certain areas where a Rockwell Land type of development would fit,” Padilla explains.
Admittedly, majority of the areas that the company had previously surveyed did not fit the “Rockwell requirements.”
This led then to a realization that Rockwell Land had to create another “category” of developments to cater to the needs of the broader market.
“It was not easy because first you have to make sure the second brand does not dilute the first brand’s equity. So we were careful not to make this happen and also all the learning that we have had in our previous developments like The Grove we make sure to carry,” Padilla says.
Located along C-5 in Ortigas, The Grove by Rockwell was the company’s first attempt to cater to the “lower market” segment. But it was through this project that the company realized the need to set up another company that would specifically handle the “broader” market segment. Hence, the birth of “Primaries.”
“Primaries is for people who are familiar with the brand and those who want to experience the Rockwell lifestyle. Through this second brand, we would be able to better fulfill our mission to provide people with quality shelter. Though it may not be Rockwell Center exactly, the quality and structural standards that we would follow for every Primaries’ development would definitely be Rockwell-like,” Padilla explains.
Primaries’ initial offering is the two-tower, mid-rise project dubbed 53 Benitez.
“I know that eventually we would have to get into this because you can only grow so much by catering to a particular segment of the market. This was bound to happen, we really have to broaden our reach and our customer base especially now that the market is continuously growing,” he further notes.
Padilla, however, remains hopeful that just like Rockwell Land, Primaries would be able to satisfy the need of the market and eventually account for 50 percent of their business.
“Just like when we came in to cater to the high end market, when there were already established names, and there were a lot of skeptics who did not believed in us but eventually saw what we have done, we want that reputation that we have established for the upscale market to be replicated in Primaries,” Padilla relates.
According to Padilla, they are hoping to increase their market share through Primaries as this will allow them to tap what was once an unavailable market for them.
“With Primaries, our footprint and presence will broaden…I want Primaries to be the Uniqlo clothing fashion of housing. It doesn’t matter whether it is so much cheaper than Prada or Ferragamo but when you wear it, it looks and feels good. And though we may not get there right away we have our vision set on that, to be the Uniqlo of housing and I’m excited to find ways to make that happen,” he adds.
The head of Rockwell Land admits that he is both scared and optimistic of the company’s new venture—a bolder step taken to create something that is really great and unique.
“I’m scared as hell on how I’m going to build 53 Benitez because I know I’m taking risks, but we are not going to be the Uniqlo of housing if we only follow the way people do things. You cannot just follow the norm—you’ve got to break the norm,” Padilla concludes.