Business was booming when it opened in 1996, the founders, husband-and-wife tandem Rosemarie “Bubu” and Ricky Andres, grew that first branch to 32 stores in its first three years.
Despite tight pockets everywhere, Bubu explained, “Candy was seen as a way to make people happy. It was also a cheap treat.”
That hot streak came to a sudden halt in early September 1999, when their new headquarters in Bagong Ilog, Pasig City, burned to the ground. They received a call about the fire that night, but by the time they arrived on the scene, it was too late. A garments factory that was operating upstairs was the source of the fire, and the second floor collapsed onto their office and warehouse. “The fire was just too big to control,” said Ricky, who is also Candy Corner’s president. “We could not do anything but watch everything burn.”
“We lost everything—our entire office, all the equipment, important files and documents, and about P6 million ($129,192.66) worth of inventory,” said Ricky. When the fire died out, it took with it a total of P9 million ($193,788.99) in damages. The only things that survived the blaze were inside a fireproof safe and a single filing drawer: a few checkbooks, passbooks, and three rolls of toilet paper.
“The sad thing was, we were barely a week into the warehouse,” Bubu recalled. They had moved in from their old office and warehouse in New Manila; files were still in boxes and their insurance for the place was still being processed then. “Everything was gone, and our insurance company refused to cover us despite being a long-time client.”
It was a blow that would have taken any other business out of commission, but luckily, Candy Corner was well prepared for the upcoming Christmas season. All their stores were fully stocked, enabling them to weather the next two months by moving stocks from store to store wherever needed.
But they still had to rebuild inventory, so they asked local suppliers to extend their credit and negotiated with landlords for rental concessions while they attempted to recover. They took out loans left and right—from friends, family, banks. They also had to contend with government agencies after the loss of all their paperwork.
“We had to swallow our pride when we had to take out more loans, and sometimes begged suppliers to allow longer payment terms,” she recalled. “We had to continue expansion and innovation despite the tight cash flow. We watched our expenses and lived a controlled lifestyle. It involved a lot of patience, focus, sleepless nights—and, yes, resilience to outside pressure,” she added.
And in spite of everything, Bubu—one of the first to graduate from the Asian Institute of Management with a Masters in Entrepreneurship—was determined to protect their credit. Delays on some payments were unavoidable, but they made it a point to communicate with suppliers and partners constantly, and always managed to pay what was due.
It was hard going for the next five years, but the worst of it was behind them by 2005, when they had finally paid off all their loans and cash flow was going well. “Sometimes, there are no immediate solutions,” said Ricky. “A good family friend advised us to just save and save for the next 10 years, and all will be fine after that—it was the best piece of advice we got.”
Giving up was never really an option, she said, but there were times when it was tempting. There was a time the family even entertained the notion of leaving the country, and the business, behind altogether. “The fire was probably the biggest and toughest battle we had to fight,” said Bubu. “[It was] not something you can solve quickly or talk your way out of.”
Now on the cusp of its 20-year milestone, Candy Corner has grown to 93 branches in commercial spots across the country. Bubu and Ricky even managed to build two more confectionery retail brands: Nuts About Candy and Cacao. “There will always be problems, challenges, and walls that will block your way. What’s important is how you face up to adversity.”
After weathering disasters, Candy Corner founders know a thing or two about making the most of a sticky situation:
Innovate when and where you can. They did not decide on a confectionery business on a whim: They used to import toys and novelty items. But the items were bulky, and to make the most out of expensive freight fees, they filled in the excess spaces in boxes with candy. They eventually shuttered their other ventures, but the candy business endured.
Know your brand inside out. When they were getting back on their feet after the warehouse fire, “sticking to the basics and making your core competencies as solid as possible [was] most crucial,” said Ricky. “Having a clear vision, mission, and corporate values are extremely important in building a company—in our case, rebuilding a company.”
Parlay your knowledge into other endeavors. Though they used to be rejected by commercial spaces for lacking retail experience, the couple have now leveraged on their extensive retail knowledge to venture into new businesses, like a craft beer pub and a women’s workwear shoe boutique. “Once successful, keep striving for bigger goals,” said Ricky.
Victoria is a freelance writer who covers business, tech, and lifestyle. She is also the former features editor of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine. Follow her on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/vikkiverka.
This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.