Franchising as ticket to business ownership
John Paul Espenilla learned key entrepreneurial traits during a turning point in his life.
His negotiation skills became apparent in high school as he had to deal with his teacher when his mother forgot to pay his tuition fee. “I remember I could not take my final exams because my tuition was not paid in full and my mother would come to rescue and ask for promissory notes,” he recounts.
His parents separated when he was in high school. His financial woes did not get any better during his college days. Yet Espanilla did not allow setbacks to stop him from achieving his goal of being financially independent. As a working student, it was exhausting to juggle work and school, but giving up was not an option.
“I had no choice but to do it because I had a dream that someday, money wouldn’t be an issue anymore,” he adds.
Back then, there were several semesters when he was unable to enroll because he needed to work. He missed out on some school activities to go on the clock for overtime. And there were countless days when he was late for work because of his exams.
But looking back, Espenilla believes these experiences shaped him to become the person he is now.
“Now as I look back on those tough moments in my family and childhood, I was able to hone my time management skills and learned how to deal with different people,” he says.
After graduating from the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta Las Pinas in 2008, he started his career as a marketing officer for Jamba Juice, a brand under the Max’s Group.
After the pandemic, Espenilla wanted to explore new opportunities. He had a strong desire to become his own boss and venture into the food business. According to the 39-year-old, his prayers led him to the world of franchising.
Espenilla recounts that the Takoyadon franchise was his initial foray into the food business back in 2022. He prefers the franchising model because there is already a tried-and-tested system in place and he only has to work around it so it could grow into a fruitful investment.
He learned the ropes and discovered that he had knack for running his own small venture. After the success of his first franchise, he thought he should try a different food business. There was a long list of brands to choose from, he says, but one stood out for him because of sentimental value.
“I used to eat at Binalot during my college days. The food was affordable but delicious,” he explains. The following year, he inquired how he could acquire a franchise of his old favorite. In less than two weeks, he and his wife, Aileen, were already signing a contract as franchise owners. He opened his first Binalot store at 168 Mall in Binondo on May 31, 2023.
Established in 1996, Binalot is the contribution of brothers Rommel and Raffy Juan, together with Aileen Anastacio, to the culinary world. Its menu includes 12 of the most popular Pinoy dishes such as adobo, bistek, tapa, tocino, sisig and longganisa, all paired with salted egg, tomato and rice. As a nod to Filipino culture, all these viands are wrapped in banana leaves; hence, the term “binalot” (wrapped) became the inspiration for a truly Filipino quick service restaurant.
Twenty-seven years later, Binalot is still wrapped up with the idea that Filipino food is among the best in the world. This all-Filipino fast-food concept now has more than 38 stores in Metro Manila, of which 26 are franchises. In line their advocacy to help develop small and medium-sized enterprises, the franchise is designed to “multiply individual entrepreneurship, [which is] the key to national economic progress.”
Each franchise costs P600,000 but the total investment range can reach up to P1.5 million to P3 million depending on the size of the store. The minimum space needed to set up a franchise is 20 square meters (sq m) for food stalls and 60 sq m for in line stores. A franchise typically breaks even after three and a half years.
Although the brand also felt the crunch during the pandemic, the leaders consider it as a learning curve. “We tightened our belts and streamlined the organization,” says Rommel Juan, president of Binalot. Their sales have now roared back to prepandemic levels.
Engine of growth
“Binalot sees franchising as our main growth strategy. We are looking for dedicated and hands-on franchise partners who love the brand,” says Juan.
A professional team will be there to support future franchisees, he adds. “We believe that franchising is doing business for yourself but not by yourself. We cut the learning curve and franchisees benefit from our years of experience,” Juan says.
Recently, Binalot unveiled its innovative new store design, the “Binalot Komiks Design,” during the Franchise Asia 2023 held at the SMX Convention Center in Mall of Asia on Oct. 27. The design draws inspiration from the vibrant world of Filipino comics, featuring the essence of a traditional Filipino dining room. This aims to provide customers with an immersive cultural experience that evokes feelings of warmth and nostalgia through a visually striking duotone aesthetic.
Innovations such as these makes Espenilla feel right at home with the Binalot brand. The Espenillas recently opened their second store at Dragon8 Shopping Mall in Tondo. “My wife and I were praying for God’s wisdom and provision for our second branch, and He favored us,” he quips.
Asked what attracted him to the Binalot brand, he says he was drawn to its culture of care and concern for a person’s development. The sustainability and support programs of Binalot energize franchisers with the drive to succeed in managing their own food business, he says.
Now that he is a full-time entrepreneur, Espanilla learned that having a mentor makes it a bit easier to run a business venture. “[It must be] someone you look up to, someone who can give advice and even constructive and honest criticisms.
“My mentor would always remind me to stay hungry, remain humble and get better every day. It helped me mold my character as a person. [Because now that I have employees to look after] my everyday decision is not my own anymore, I learned to be more considerate,” he says.
A positive mindset and a can-do attitude will go a long way when you are running your own business, he says.
“Everything starts with a positive mindset. It is a simple idea but it’s not always easy to put into practice. Optimism is contagious so you must motivate yourself and surround yourself with positive people,” he adds.