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Building for the future: Michael Co

The Philippines is experiencing an economic upturn, and the city of Cebu is particularly optimistic. According to the SunStar Cebu, business leaders are excited about what is to come.

Michael Co, CEO of Cebu Home and Builders Centre

“Big ticket meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) in the tourism front, continued growth in the information technology-business process management (BPM) space, real estate explosion, a tamed inflation rate, and election-related spending, among others, paint a promising future for the local economy,” the publication states.

The CEO of Cebu Home and Builders Centre, Michael Co, is one of the expectant business leaders in the city. “The city of Cebu is a major player in the development of what is happening in our country right now,” he says.

“Our goal at Cebu Home and Builders is to continue bringing quality products at a good price; this is how we plan to be a part of the development of our economy.”

“Our goal at Cebu Home and Builders is to continue bringing quality products at a good price; this is how we plan to be a part of the development of our economy.”

In 2002, Michael and his brother James wanted to build a subsidiary home improvement store after years spent working at their parents’ family company, Cebu Oversea Hardware Co.

The company’s first and main branch, located in Mandaue City, has its most extensive array of DIY materials and caters to the higher-end market with a showroom.

More stores were built in strategic areas in the region to better service the market, namely in Mactan, Pardo, Consolacion, and its latest store in Minglanilla.

“We do what we do because it is anchored in our family position of bringing world-class products at the best possible price and setting,” Michael says.

After nearly 17 years of retail experience and a growing customer base, Cebu Home and Builders Centre states it continues to grow “with the booming socio-economic development of Cebu” and aims to “provide quality home improvement materials that are reasonably priced to help Filipinos build their dream homes”.

Michael believes that retail is all about how companies package their products and services. “Our goal is to make everything an effective, wonderful customer experience,” he says. “We can be very proud of the product selections that set us apart from our competition.

“We have an unparalleled level of customer support. The service comes right down to always having a parking space here in our store. We have delivered our promise of bringing the right product, the right value, in the right place, and we have a high level of customer satisfaction.”

Michael Co, CEO of Cebu Home and Builders Centre

Since the company is a bricks-and-mortar store, it faces challenges reaching customers online. “Data is changing the way we conduct our business and the way people buy,” Michael explains.

“We can’t ignore the changes. The challenge is how we empower the data in the digital space and streamline it in the physical store,” he says.

“We must always find how to use the physical space best to connect with our potential online clients, and we must utilise the online facility to capture our available globally informed customers. We are constantly learning how to enhance or create a total customer experience so that they stay with us.”

Michael is eager to develop the company’s customer experience to achieve excellence in an engaging space. He believes that a close relationship with the client will help them become a regular customer. “We need to engage the client with our product and services,” he states.

“You see, you can either buy online or in-store, but one of the great features we have is that customers can touch and feel our products and get to experience the products firsthand.

“The challenge in a retail space is how to develop a personal relationship with a client,” he continues.

“We ask ourselves, ‘How can we engage and enhance the experience? How can we allow for digital touchpoints?’ We aim to make it a more personal and enjoyable experience. In the end, I think it is how you gain a relationship with a customer, create a strong bond with them so they will use the products and buy more often.”

“In the end, I think it is how you gain a relationship with a customer, create a strong bond with them so they will use the products and buy more often.”

It is a family business, with many family members leading departments day to day including Michael’s brother James who handles the Cebu Operations, and his nephews who help manage the traditional store operation.

Michael Co, CEO of Cebu Home and Builders Centre

Michael wants to maintain the tradition that his family, the founders of Cebu Home and Builders’ parent company, have left behind. “Many family members are still involved,” he says.

“Our culture is more personal than most other companies. People come to us because of the personal connection we have developed with them. What sets us apart is our more than 60 years of experience in selling traditional hardware products. Despite the many changes in the industry, this unique background has enabled us to remain stable but adaptive, and ingrained into us a deeper and more strategic understanding of our client and the industry as a whole.”

Being understanding is an essential value to Michael. Whether it’s with clients or suppliers, Michael believes that understanding and constant communication among stakeholders builds better relationships.

“Of course, suppliers want to sell more to us and, as buyers, we want to buy more efficiently,” he says. “It is essential for a company like us to have efficient supply chain management. We should know every aspect of our supply chain well.

“Regular interaction is important. We have developed a feedback program where we ask our suppliers what support they need, let them know what our needs are, and how they performed. This way, we maintain a good relationship with our suppliers because it is not just a simple buy and supply relationship. You take care of them, and they take care of you.”

“It is not just a simple buy and supply relationship. You take care of them, and they take care of you.”

Michael considers the company’s goals and plans to be multifaceted. Since retail is a mix of products and people coming together, he wants to keep creating a good “buying experience”.

“In the short-term, we still need to develop our core product to reach its maximum level. From day one, when I started at Cebu Home in 2002, I was already determined to establish the company’s core and exclusive brand that customers can depend on,” he explains. “We continue to develop the product and extend our core brand and products.”

Cebu Home and Builders is also invested in technology, including new business processes and analytic tools in order to enhance and streamline its various operations.

Michael Co, CEO of Cebu Home and Builders Centre

“These analytics ensure the efficiency of our business. We are constantly improving our inter-department communication and interaction so that everything runs more efficiently and in tune with our common goal of achieving enhanced customer experience and satisfaction.”

Third, the company focuses on developing its people. “We have a two to three-year plan to start looking inward instead of just looking outward,” Michael explains.

“By looking inwards, we are developing our staff, so they can provide support to our customers and bring excellent service to our clients. We are doing what we can to develop professional staff. I want us to have more people involved in the management of our company. It’s important to develop support teams and talented staff to help run the company.”

Michael believes that to have a motivated team, they need to be given a purpose. “You must provide your employees with a reason to stay in the company and work for it,” he explains. “You must be able to provide for their basic needs and livelihood.

“After that, you must be able to motivate them and raise them to the next level. We must mould them to become better people, staff and managers,” he says. “The result will be a well-developed organisation composed of well-trained people doing the right things.”

Michael has seen both his parents and his company grow from the start and considers his family’s entrepreneurial history and simple beginnings as the root of his passion.

“My passion stems from seeing two hardworking parents and a hardworking uncle,” he says. “Now, the third generation of my family is involved, including my nephews. We are cooperative; there may be disagreements but no division among the siblings and relatives, and we are all supportive of each other.

“I can’t help but be passionate about the company,” he adds. “I’m also passionate about the people we serve. We serve not only our clients but also our employees.

“We must keep improving and moving forward to stay ahead. When you see people enjoying your products, telling others about it and coming back for more, it makes you passionate about your work.”

The one primary business principle Michael lives by is never to stop learning. In this age of digital information, he believes you must know more than your competition.

“It’s up to you to always keep yourself updated,” he explains. “Innovate continuously, always move forward. Also, be passionate about your work. Always find a deeper meaning in what you do beyond just the financial rewards, so that you will always be passionate about work and remain true to your passion.”

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