For four consecutive years now, Aquabest Purified Water has received different awards in Entrepreneur Philippines magazine's annual Franchise Awards. Aquabest is the flagship brand of Global Quality Waters and Environmental Solutions Technologies, Inc. (GQWEST). With more than 400 water refilling stations, plus a bottled water line distributed in Mini-Stop convenience stores, Aquabest has become one of the largest water refilling brands in the country.
But it is not merely name recall which makes potential franchisees seek an Aquabest license. Its focus on QSVT--quality, service, value and technology--has not just earned for it an ISO-certification, but the trust of both the franchisees and end-users.
Quality based on international standards
"We are the only water treatment company that is ISO-certified," proudly shares GQWEST President and CEO Carson Tan. The company received its ISO 9001:2000 certification in October 2008 in recognition of the company's compliance with quality process standards and effective quality management. "It validates what kind of quality we have, hindi yung kami lang ang nagsasabi. It's validated by a third party." Bureau Veritas, an independent certifying body, audited their systems using the International Office of Standardization (ISO) criteria.
Since the company's establishment in 1997 (when it was still named Bestlife Franchising, Inc.) the founders wanted the company to be known for quality, hence they employed the latest technology in delivering superior purified water. Yet they were still surprised to find that there was plenty of room for improvement to be able to acquire an ISO certification.
"Akala natin ganun lang when we say 'quality', di ba? Pero, we spent around two years for the validation and auditing. They told us, 'separate the warehouse from the offices--everybody has access to your systems, there are no controls, etc.' Minsan, it could take a while (before we could act on their recommendations) because there were major investments involved. But we learned a lot, in terms of the standards that have to be followed."
According to Tan, they avoid engaging in price wars just to be competitive. Instead, they make sure their products have superior quality. "Other water refilling stations still use reverse osmosis in purifying their water. We went a step further, and started to use Grander Technology," says Tan."
Wikipedia defines reverse osmosis as a process that's similar to membrane filtration, however, it involves using pressure to efficiently separate the pure solvent from other particles. This process has been used to purify water since the 1970s. The water produced reverse osmosis is near pure and similar to distilled water in content.
On the other hand, Grander Technology is a process invented by Austrian Johann Grander. It changes the inner structure of the water and returns the water molecules to a highly ordered state, therefore, the water remains pure longer regardless of storage conditions.
Furthermore, the company switched from subcontracting the construction of the franchised water stations, to making it part of their core business. "Pag nag-outsource ka, hindi nagiging pareho ang quality. Baka tinipid yung piping, tinipid yung parts--so we realized that we can not continue to outsource this," explains Tan.
Value for franchisees, value for end-users
Aquabest is targeted towards the educated middle class or the B and C markets. It is priced a bit higher than the others, and it undergoes 24 to 28 stages in the purification process. Under the brand, a franchisee can sell 3 products: Aquabest Oxyplus, Aquabest Mineral Plus and Aquabest Alkaline Plus. The other purified water brands of GQWEST are Aquarevo, Aquaspree and Bestlife.
Why does GQWEST offer many different brands? "It's all about market segmentation. We provide what the market needs. If your location is within areas where the market is more of the D and E, we will offer you a different brand which is not as expensive." Tan says they don't collect franchise fees or royalty fees, only monthly dues and the initial investment for the construction of the water station.
Recently, they signed up Gabby Concepcion to be the endorser of the product. Tan explains this is part of building the brand, since they believe a product's message is often heard more clearly if there is a voice that communicates the product's features. "If you build the brand, and give what is due to your customer, even if they try other brands, babalik sila sa yo. I tell the franchisees, 'I-plastic mo yan, 'wag mo tipirin sa ganito, gandahan mo ang service mo. Malalaman nila ang difference."
Aquabest franchisees go through business operations training, are periodically visited and graded, provided promotional materials such as tarpaulins, and receive text blasts about updates through an improved communication system. According to Tan, there are still a few programs for the franchisees in the drawing board, a testament to how they value their relationship with their partners. "It's heartwarming sometimes, when some franchisees come to the office, wow, may bago nang Fortuner! Nakapagpatayo na ng bahay! Katas ng tubig! We're very happy for them."
Additional opportunity for franchisees
GQWEST has also introduced Laundrybest, a laundry service franchise which can be bundled with an Aquabest franchise. For the franchisee, this means extra income without requiring much additional investment. The water used in Laundrybest comes from the by-product of Aquabest's purification system. Instead of discarding this waste water, it is used for laundry, therefore it is economical and eco-friendly, too.
Customers are likewise given additional value. They don't have to bring their laundry to Laundrybest shops; instead, the same staff who delivers Aquabest picks up their laundry and delivers it back to them at the next water delivery schedule.
Franchising is not about joining the band wagon
When asked to give guidelines to entrepreneurs who want to franchise their business, Tan gives four tips. These are: first, have a unique selling proposition; second, be ready with a service support system; third, establish your own stores first. He adds that franchising should be seriously thought about, instead of something that one would get only into because everybody else does the same.
Tan further says, "Of course every businessman's goal is to make money, but actually, money is just an indicator of your success. In our case, our goal is to make honest work; money is the reward for the work that we have done. Besides, there's always the factor of God's provision. Sometimes, kahit anong endeavor mo, kahit masipag ka, if there's no blessing from God, your effort will be in vain. I would like to believe our company is a Christian-based organization, and that, with God's blessing, our efforts will not be in vain."