Some people call it the home renovation pandemic. As we all isolated to escape from COVID-19, many of us decided to smarten up our domiciles – and keep busy to avoid the strain of going nowhere. Whatever name it carries, though, the coronavirus has had a major impact on retail businesses and stores specialising in home improvement.
Among them, Wilcon Depot found that while business increased, it also placed immediate pressure on the company’s operations by forcibly closing stores, threatening staff health and safety, and jeopardising its supply chains across the Philippines.
It was a trying time for Rosemarie Bosch-Ong, Senior Executive Vice President and COO of Wilcon Depot, who is responsible for the implementation and innovation of sales and operations for the company.
Wilcon Depot began life as a small hardware store in 1977, but is now a national chain of more than 60 stores throughout the Philippines, and is a publicly listed retail home improvement company. Rosemarie has been in the retail construction industry for more than 36 years, starting out as a Purchasing Manager at Wilcon in 1984.
She is as passionate as ever about her career with the company after working her way up the corporate ladder. In addition to her role as Senior Executive Vice President and COO of Wilcon, she is also the President of the Philippine Retailers Association.
According to Rosemarie, from the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the company’s supply chain was one of its key vulnerabilities, alongside the temporary closure of its retail stores and disruption to delivery schedules owing to increased security and sanitation checks.
“We realised that we must remain undamaged against COVID-19 by protecting the most important asset in our business – our people and the community where we live,” she explains.
“After the government mandated lockdowns, we have been cooperative with the safety and health protocols to fight the disease and have focused our actions on our employees’ safety, health and wellbeing. Technically, it has greatly affected our daily corporate operations and led us to store closures nationwide, but beyond this difficult situation, we have let our employees know and feel that they are secure.”
Relationships with Wilcon’s supply partners make or break the business, Rosemarie says, so it’s essential to maintain close collaboration with them, and that was never more apparent than during the pandemic. Effective supplier partnerships work two ways, through a mutual understanding of what each brings to the table and the benefits that each can accrue.
“At Wilcon, we focus not only on what suppliers can do for us but also on the value that we can bring to our suppliers,” she reveals.
“Any great partnership leverages both parties’ success and advantage. We make sure to set suitable service levels and metrics into agreements. We expect honesty and give honesty, which eventually leads to mutual trust. We also make sure to regularly discuss critical issues and areas for improvement.”
I believe in the importance of vision in leadership.
Wilcon also realised that it needed to adapt quickly by introducing new business methods and products. The disruption forced the company to rethink business continuity plans, despite the losses and delays caused by the lockdowns. In May, it launched its new online store, expanding its ecommerce website for a greater range of products and, importantly, better service.
Recognising the limitations on people to go outside and shop, the company introduced a shopping option called Browse, Call & Collect/Deliver, enabling customers to shop from home by browsing products on the Wilcon websites, contacting their nearest store to confirm their orders and then collecting their purchases instore or having them delivered.
“With just the use of mobile phones, we were able to deliver our products to all our customers without compromising health and safety orders,” Rosemarie says.
“We learned to navigate our business and redirect our route. Unsurprisingly, bricks-and-mortar businesses that lacked a digital framework or an online presence struggled after the lockdown. Bricks-and-mortar businesses that offer products and services to their customers face to face tend to adapt and meet rapidly changing customer demands and behaviour. Wilcon Depot is maximising our online presence to connect with all our customers.”
Rosemarie will continue to focus on the company’s digital transformation, believing that the crisis is a great opportunity to explore new digital trends and maximise the use of technology for better productivity and services.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Wilcon is looking for opportunities to grow its network through its store expansion campaign, #FlyingHighTo100, which is projected to expand its footprint to 100 operational stores by 2025, barring unexpected external factors.
According to Rosemarie, Wilcon’s most important asset, however, is its people, who have pulled the business through the pandemic with their skill and boundless energy.
“Our employees help us to stay competitive in the market. That’s why we are doing our best to train and develop their capabilities, and to keep them engaged with the company’s values and vision. Wilcon regularly conducts seminars for all retail leaders and employees,” she says.
“Part of Wilcon’s culture is people empowerment. Our Founder and Chair emeritus, William T Belo, once said that people are our top asset. “The company is committed to providing customer value-based services so we provide in-house training programs to equip and help them to deliver a remarkable experience to all of our customers.”
Rosemarie’s vast experience with the company has given her a clear understanding of the long-term view of its goals. As COO she takes on the responsibility of preparing all staff – and herself – for the future.
“I believe in the importance of vision in leadership. Having one, along with clear goals, can determine your destiny. There’s a proverb that says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ To accomplish anything, it will start with a vision,” she says.
“I need to think big, make tough choices and take bold actions for the company. At the moment, I need to be ready and equipped, and accept the fact that improving myself is a priority. That’s why I decided to take my master’s degree. Continuous learning is a way to build a strong reputation, gain new knowledge and upgrade skills. If you want to become a more capable leader, then you must make time for learning and developing yourself.”
Proudly supported by: