Thursday, November 20, 2008

A recipe for success: JSEC and a world of experience

A recipe for success
JSEC and a world of experience

by rick olivares

A new dish on the menu “I can’t cook,” admitted Camille Co (IV BS Mgmt) with unabashed honesty. “But I love to eat. Putting up Fiesta Atenista has given me a reason to try.”

“I can’t cook either,” seconded Zerge Zandueta (IV BS Mgmt) of Noodle Nook. “Prito prito lang. But there’s something about food that is almost a top of mind choice for a business. After all, people love to eat and they have to eat.”

The John Gokongwei School of Management Student Enterprise Center not only puts students inside the kitchen of food stalls but gives them a taste of the pressure cooker that is real world entrepreneurship.

Christian Mendoza (III AB IS) thought that putting up a food stall with some friends was a piece of cake. During this past summer, he’d wake up early on a Saturday morning, defrost the food and ingredients, slice vegetables, prep for opening Kebab House at JSEC and put out his best smile for customers. “I knew it wasn’t easy setting up your own business, but experiencing it first hand while at school gives you a better appreciation for a lot of things especially what you don’t learn inside the classroom,” he remarked of his initial foray into entrepreneurship.

Harvey King (III BS BM) of Buddha Bean Café agrees and points out that even simple matters such as division of labor between partners is something that cannot be taken lightly. “Basically, it’s about working with people,” he pointed out. “You deal with employees and learn how to understand them, to treat them, and to work with them. And there are your partners, and your customers. Each one you handle differently but with the same amount of care and concern.”

Mendoza’s partner at Kebab House, Enzo Macinag (III BM) relates a story of an abrasive customer who complained non-stop for 15 minutes as she waited to be served due to a long queue. “I was at the back helping out with the food and I could hear her complain,” related Macinag who comes from a family that is in the food business. “I first let our staff deal with her but when it got worse, I was the one who now had to face her. I must admit that I was about to blow my top, but I’m glad that I didn’t. By the way, I’ve seen her buy food again so I guess the food and well, us not confronting her in a like manner must have left a good impression somehow. But at that time, I asked myself, “how did I get into this?’”

When JGSOM Dean Rodolfo Ang sent out invitations to the students of the Loyola Schools for proposals for stall in JSEC, King and his partners interestingly drew their inspiration from day coffee shops in Hong Kong. “We wanted to do something different that you don’t see too much of even in the malls. That way, you generate some interest because people are always willing to try something new.”

Zandueta and his partners also looked at what was available along Katipunan Road and decided that noodles were something decidedly different.

For Substation’s Bianca Silva (IV AB IS) and Jo-Anne Salazar (IV BS Mgmt), they admit to cramming about their proposal. “We thought about a lot of different types of food,” said Silva. “Initially it was rice meals – but that’s nothing different from what you’ll get elsewhere here in school.”
“We even thought of Persian food which we all enjoy,” interjected Salazar. “But we eventually settled on sandwiches… subs. And we make sure that we have different kinds of sandwiches that will cater to everyone whether you’re a meat lover of a veggie.”

The ingredients of change

The challenge of modern education is to make the classroom teachings more relevant. Arguments against traditional classroom teachings is that it’s too steeped in textbook theory rather than reality. And all the student entrepreneurs in JSEC admit that one of the key learnings not found in the classroom is human relations whether it is with the hired help or the customers.

“It adds to what we learn in the classroom,” affirmed Paolo Bernardo (III BS LM) of Blue Aquila which serves Italian food. “It – to steal a line from Jerry Maguire – completes your education. So maybe if you decide to pursue it after college, you know what to expect and its do’s and don’ts.”

In order to help themselves better understand the nature of entrepreneurship, the students have enrolled in subjects like finance and leadership among others. “It enhances your options,” chipped in Mendoza.

Zandueta confirms that he and his partners Mica Cariño and Bradley Pineda also sought the guidance of their parents (and Mica’s in particular) for their business. “After all, they should know a thing or two about work and business.”

In fact, in addition to parental advice, almost all the student-entrepreneurs had to borrow money from their parents to help put up their businesses. Some like Macinag, who comes from a family that dabbles in the food and restaurant business says it’s a natural progression for them to get into it. “You can say that I eventually learned how to cook (he helps with the sauces of his food offerings at Kebab House).

William Mallari, the Director for the Loyola Schools Bookstore and JSEC says that more than human relations, students also learn proper forecasting, logistics, and setting priorities. “These are hardcore truths and learnings for them,” said Mallari who worked for a long time in the United States in supplying five-star hotels and restaurants with food and their other requirements. “It is something they have to learn as they go.”

There were some 50 proposals sent to JGSOM before they were pared down to 20 of which they were ranked in terms of the viability of the submission as a franchise in the student-run mall. Added Mallari, “We’re looking for a different sampling of cuisine yet at the same time we look at how they intend to run their business. There are also many things to consider such as how their quality control, cleanliness and packaging. We make it clear that they cannot serve leftovers and that the health of everyone is paramount.”

Currently there are 11 food stalls and one print shop that can be found in JSEC. “That’s all we can accommodate for now, but we are definitely looking at expansion in the future,” added the director.

“It’s a rare opportunity for the students,” summed up Ang of this experiential lab that other schools are beginning to copy. “It builds better businessmen and it makes for a great head start into the world.”

Cooks in the kitchen
One of the student-entrepreneurs biggest challenges was dividing the labor between themselves. “You can’t just be a partner because you’re simply a friend,” explained Fiesta Atenista’s Marianne Abella (IV BS Mgmt). “Everyone has contributions from chipping in for the capital to the assigned tasks. We look at each other’s strengths and capabilities per day responsibilities since they all have classes.”

Substation’s partners all divvy up the work amongst themselves from store inventories to outsourcing meat products in Alabang where all three partners live. “We also learned the value of being a suki,” laughed Salazar. “You get good service from your suppliers.”

”Everyone at some point will have disagreements or even arguments on who is not pulling their weight,“ said Zandueta. “So it’s really important to define roles and set responsibilities.”

“Your day-to-day presence is also important because if your helpers see you waffling with your responsibilities then they either slack off and the quality of your food declines,” stressed Macinag about being immersed in all aspects of the business. “After all this is why you got into the business, right?”

“Aside from setting up roles, you have to be flexible enough to adjust your menu, organization, and yourself because there will always be flaws in the system,” pointed out Mendoza. “You cannot foresee everything such as the weather that can hamper sales to late deliveries so just make sure that you can quickly adjust.”

Taste test
Greg Camacho (IV BS Mgmt) takes a particular interest in how customers purchase food from Pinoy Bora Burger. “If they wolf it down, then I’m happy,” he exclaims. When they don’t finish it, I feel bad and I go back and look at how we prepare our products so people will really like them.”

“One time, one of our staff informed me that we have this customer who will come to our stall like two or three times a day,” laughed the bespectacled Camacho who got the idea for Pinoy Bora Burger while munching on one along the famous island getaway’s white beach. “Customers like that make all the hard work, sweat, and frustrations worth the while.”

King says that he’s seen customers make their satisfaction known in their Yahoo Messenger status and that really warms his heart. “That helps spread our stall to others,” he said proudly.

Not all the challenges have the appetite in mind. One --- Hyperjet Computer Services is tucked almost unobtrusively on the right hand side of the mall and it not only has to compete with being lost in the shuffle but for visibility. “It’s a disadvantage,” agreed Louie Yazon (IV BS ME) one of the stall’s proprietors. “More so since all the previous stalls in that spot didn’t do well. Tagong tago. Our proposal was initially about Mexican food but our second choice was a print shop. So we ended up with the latter.”

With all the requirements of a student in college and the basic photocopying services unable to immediately cope with everyone’s demands, Hyperjet was put up. “The problem is a lot of students have their own laptops nowadays so they can burn their own stuff,” related of his shop’s challenges. “So we’re forced to get clients from the outside. We have to be pretty aggressive or else we’ll be lost out especially with us having to pay rent and electricity.”

The student-entrepreneurs also learn how to promote their food stalls by taking part in various school events, offering summer delivery service (as long as its in the college), or promotions such as loyalty cards or eating contests.

“Your creativity and aggressiveness is really tested here,” said Mallari of this experiential lab. “All in all, it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”
Any last learnings?
“Yeah,” deadpanned Mendoza with finality. “There’s a proper way of slicing vegetables pala.”

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