After travelling to America in the 70s and seeing firsthand just how successful the huge hardware retailers were, Johnny Cobankiat had an idea. So when he got a certain fateful call, he jumped at the chance to bring a franchise of ACE Hardware USA, in partnership with the SM Group of Henry Sy and family, to the Philippines, using his family’s own wholesale hardware business as one of its suppliers.
This was just one of the many things that Johnny has been instrumental in achieving over his 25 years as CEO of Co Ban Kiat Hardware. Johnny sat down with The CEO Magazine to talk about the journey and his plans for the company’s future.
The CEO Magazine: You are the fourth-generation family member to run Co Ban Kiat Hardware. How does the relationship between Co Ban Kiat Hardware and ACE Hardware work?
Johnny: Co Ban Kiat Hardware in itself is a wholesale company. We sell to all the hardware companies across the Philippines. We were originally called the Hardware Workshop, which was purely a retail store, and after a while I think it caught the eye of ACE Hardware in the US. At that time, the corporation was looking to expand into Asia. The management team in the States got in touch with me, and the rest is history.
We started ACE Hardware in the Philippines, using it as a stepping stone to then introduce it to Indonesia, Malaysia, and whichever other Asian countries they were looking to get into.
They wanted to give me the China market, too, but I refused because it is too difficult, and I was content to just be in the Philippines.
During my stay in the US, when we made the deal, the National Hardware Show was on and I had a lot of interviews. One of the journalists asked me: “Why would you put ACE Hardware in the Philippines when it has never been there before?” I answered: “How do you expect people to go and see a movie when there is no building to see the movie in?” So I built the house first and everything started happening from there. Basically, Co Ban Kiat is the wholesale and hardware supply company for the Philippines, and ACE Hardware is our retail partner. Together we have formed a marketplace that allows us to tackle the retail consumer’s needs.