MANILA – As many stores across the country were closing down due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, civil engineering graduate Thomas Jason Ferrer, 21, decided to open one up.
Last July 23, "Aegyo Korean Mini-Mart" had a soft opening at Countryside Ave. Cor. 4th St., Barangay Sta. Lucia in Pasig City. “Aego” by definition is an expression of cuteness in order to appeal to another person.
Ferrer saw the Covid-19-related lockdowns as an opportunity to sell Korean food products knowing most people would be stuck home watching K-drama and craving delicious Korean food.
He also took into consideration that his mother, a dentist, had always wanted to open up a family business.
“Matagal na rin gusto ni mommy ng Korean mini-mart. During the quarantine obsessed siya sa K-drama ako naman sa K-pop. Ayun, sabi ko tuloy na natin gawa na tayo ng business (Mommy always wanted to open a Korean mini-mart. During the quarantine, she was obsessed with K-drama while I was into K-pop. So I suggested putting up a business),” he said in an interview.
To convince his family to allow him to proceed with his plan, Ferrer spent just two days preparing a spreadsheet containing a summary of the business's income and expenses over a specific period.
“Gumawa ako ng study ng gagastusin, kung magkano ang profit. Nag-research about it prinesent kay Mom (I made a study on expenses on profit. I did research about it and presented it to Mom),” he said.
The moment he was given the green light, Ferrer said he started looking for a good site to put of the store, contacting suppliers, and designing signage and logos.
Ferrer also prepared an inventory of products available in the store such as snacks, ramen and other instant noodles, kimchi, ice cream, and cooking ingredients like fish sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oils.
Before putting up a mini-mart, he made a brief foray into baking last April. Since ube-cheese pandesal was the trend at that time, he baked and sold his version of the quarantine-food obsession.
“Bumili ako ng oven, ingredients. Bawing-bawi yung investment ko (I bought my own oven, ingredients. I really gained from my investment) by more than 100 percent,” he said.
It was the success of his pandesal business which prompted him to take on the challenge of managing a convenience store.
To comply with the new health and safety standards, Ferrer said employees conduct temperature checks for customers at the door, provide hand sanitizers and alcohol around the store, and ensure round the clock sanitation of all areas.
Customers will also be required to log in their personal information -- name, contact number, and the time they entered the store -- to facilitate contact tracing, he said.
Only two customers at a time will be allowed inside so the two staff members will be able to provide them with assistance, he added. A security camera is also installed to prevent theft.
Ferrer happily shared that their staff are also given health insurances, stressing the importance of making an investment in workers and in their health.
Aegyo offers a wide range of home-delivery items within Barangay Sta. Lucia for customers who prefer to purchase their products in the comfort of their own homes.
Good with money
According to Ferrer, he felt that it was the right time to engage in entrepreneurship since he wanted to make the most of his time while waiting on final dates for the licensure exams in civil engineering.
He has always been great at managing resources, but how did he learn to be so prudent? He said being treasurer of the University of Santo Tomas-Engineering Council really helped him rise to the challenge.
“Pag may big projects like concerts, general assemblies, sa akin dumadaan ng pera. Siyempre meticulous ka, sa akin pa nakaasa yung pag-allot ng budget. Dun ako nakakuha ng enough quality experience na nakatulong sa akin sa pag push through ng business (If there are big projects like concerts, general assemblies, the money has to go through me. Of course, you have to be meticulous because I’m the one who has to allot the budget. That’s how I gained experience which helped me push through with my business),” he said.
He knows how risky it is to start a business during recession but for him knowing what customers need now rather than before the pandemic is important.
“Nakita ko in a positive way. Essential to kasi food pa rin siya eh. May mag-birthday lang na isa, mag-o-order na. May manood ng K-drama, magke-crave ng ramen (I looked at it in a positive way. It’s essential business because it’s food. When someone celebrates a birthday, they’ll order. When someone watches K-drama, they’ll crave ramen),” he said.
Although there is always a possibility of failure, Ferrer pointed out that many new businesses are forming amid the pandemic.
“There are many businesses opening. Those opening new businesses are those who have considered Covid in their operations. They can take a risk because when you open, you have already adapted to the current situation),” he said.
In fact, Ferrer said the mini-mart is not the only business he’s managing. He is also busy preparing for the soft opening of a Korean chicken restaurant his family recently invested in.
“Chicken pa lang ang nasa menu. On the works ang tteokbokki (rice cake), fish cake soup, chapchae. May coffee na rin doon (Chicken is the only item on our menu. But tteokbokki, fish cake soup, chapchae are on the works. We also sell coffee),” he said.
Recipe for success
Ferrer said that having interest and confidence in a business idea are two things that an aspiring entrepreneur should have in order to succeed. However, he said it is just as important to take risks only when one has material and financial capacity.
“I acknowledge na privileged kami to take a risk. Hindi siya for everyone kasi malaki yung capital for Korean store (that we’re privileged enough to take a risk. It’s not for everyone because it requires a huge capital to put up a Korean store),” he said.
He explained that there will always be a chance that a business, no matter how perfect the study, would fail or go bankrupt so it was necessary to know the consequences before making a leap to entrepreneurship.
“Dapat may perfect balance ng (There should be a perfect balance of) interest, confidence, and material and financial capacity,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer also recognizes that he was lucky to receive financial and moral support from his family who has recognized his skills early on.
“Malaki din yung naging trust sa’kin. Pero feel ko naman naipakita ko yung return on investment nila sa akin (They placed so much trust in me. But I feel like I was able to show them a good rate of return for their investment in me),” he said.
The best thing about having a successful business, he said, is being able to save money not just for himself, but also his family.
“Hindi lang naman siya for me, mostly for them. Tulong ko ‘yan sa kanila (It’s not just for me, it’s mostly for them. It’s my way of helping them),” he said.
Since the Professional Regulation Commission has postponed scheduled licensure examinations this year due to the threat of Covid-19, Ferrer said he will still have plenty of time to review while managing the mini-mart.
He admitted that he’s not so sure how he will be able to balance the responsibilities of being a store owner and future civil engineer.
“Hindi ko pa alam masagot kung pano ko iha-handle yung business ng sabay kasi. Hindi ko siya iiwan kay mom at kuya (I still can’t answer how I’ll be able to handle the business together with my future job. I can’t just leave it to mom and my older brother),” he said.
However, he said he’s determined to do both at the same time -- the same way he pulled off being a student and treasurer of the student council.
“What’s for sure is that I’ll take the board and I will take a job related to [civil engineering]” he said. (PNA)