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How to ride the "tingi" flow: Lessons from Watsons

There are still opportunities in the retail sector but you will have to search for profitable niches and adapt to consumer habits like buying small packets
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ROBERT SUN: "The Philippine wellness industry is one sector that will continue to grow and open up more business opportunities for entrepreneurs."




In this land of the sari-sari or neighborhood variety stores, the retailer is king.

Based on government projections, in fact, the grip of retailing on the Philippine market will get even stronger as personal incomes in the country grow at an average of 20 percent annually and as per capita purchasing power doubles in the next five years. And nowhere is this vaulting strength and growth of the retail market more evident than in the proliferation and commercial success of so many giant shopping malls all over the country.

Another much-welcome trend for retailers is that with the significant rise in average incomes, Filipino consumers are now making purchases based not just on need but on personal preferences. This is particularly true in the case of the health, wellness, and beauty segments of the consumer market, where the people's growing consciousness for their own physical well-being is fuelling a market growth of explosive proportions. In fact, many astute investors from both here and abroad who had spotted this trend in its early stages are now cashing in on it very profitably.


Among the foreign companies attracted by the growth of the country's health, wellness, and beauty market is Watsons Personal Care Stores (Philippines), Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Hutchinson Whampoa Limited (HWL), a Chinese holding company with highly diversified businesses worldwide.

Watsons came to the Philippines in 2001 as a joint venture between HWL and Philippine retail giant SM. Under the joint venture, Watsons took over the retail marketing of SM's health and beauty lines, carrying them together with the wide range of health and wellness products under the Watsons brand.

There are now over 100 Watsons stores all over the country. Most of them are located inside SM malls and in other major malls and supermarkets; the rest are stand-alone stores in busy commercial thoroughfares. What sets the Watsons stores apart from their competition is their strongly demographically oriented approach in retail marketing, adroitly using branding and product promotions to reach its target customers.


Robert Sun, cheif operations officer of Watsons Philippines, says that with the global wellness industry seen to evolve into a trillion- dollar industry in the coming years, more business opportunities would be opened up for entrepreneurs both in the retailing and production end.

How does one get into the health, wellness, and beauty retail market and succeed? Based on the experience and insights of Sun here are some tips on how one can make a mark in this line of business:

1. Get a good feel for your customers. As in any other business, the first step is to know exactly what kind of product or service you will be offering. Follow it up with research, specifically on the buying tendencies-- the so-called demographic and psychographic profile--of the customers likely to avail of the product or service. A commissioned market study might be more scientific, but many investors say "gut" feel is also critical. In the case of Watsons, Sun says they based their approach on a clear appreciation of what the consumers need, particularly on the research finding that Filipinos list being healthy and fit as top personal priorities.


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