In 2010, clothing retail store Freeway officially launched the fourth collection in its National Artist Collector’s Series. The event showcased around two dozen new pieces of women’s apparel—from graphic tees, dresses, blouses and tunics—all inspired by the works of Ramon Valera, the first designer to be hailed as National Artist for Fashion. Indeed, the 14-year-old brand has come a long way from being a line offering basic pieces for teenagers.
[related|post]When Freeway first opened in 1997, owner Sheree R.C. Gotuaco was simply looking to adapt to her new surroundings. “When I was looking at a location in Robinsons Galleria [at the Ortigas business district], I noticed that the mall was surrounded by schools, so it was a very young population,” says Gotuaco. She then decided that Ensembles, the first brand under her company Elite Garments and which caters to women in the corporate world, might not be a good fit for the mall.
Although she wasn’t a newcomer to the fashion retail industry, Gotuaco admits that launching her second brand presented a bit of a learning curve. “It helped that we had Ensembles because we already had a system for training the sales team and for operations,” she shares, “but as with any new brand, it’s a challenge to find the market and know what they like.”
Daily sales reports helped Gotuaco determine which silhouettes were a hit with the market and how to develop a healthy merchandise mix. She also tweaked the operational side of the business—improving the audit and inventory system, for one—to turn Freeway into a viable brand.
Eventually, people took notice as offers started trickling in to franchise Freeway. “We had offers for franchising in Manila, but we always turned them down,” says Gotuaco, who prefers to be hands-on with all of Freeway’s Manila outlets. But she does entertain franchisees who want to bring the brand to the Visayas and Mindanao. “We look for partners who can help us look out for the brand like it is their own, and who have good locations in those areas that are difficult for us to reach,” she explains.
While Freeway has been growing at a healthy pace—there are now six franchises in the VisMin area and 19 branches in Metro Manila—Gotuaco acknowledges that managing the competition is a persistent challenge. So it is critical to keep coming up with the next big thing.