IN ANY business venture, success comes hand in hand with challenges and obstacles.
But as what Winston Churchill once quoted, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And Dr. Robert Lo, learned early on that failure is needed in success.
Dubbed as one of Pampanga‘s most successful businessman, Binondo-born meat trader Dr. Robert Lo is a former veterinarian and professor who established RDF Feed, Livestock and Foods, Inc. (RDFFLI) in 1988.
Today, the livestock company has built many ventures under its name, including Lodestar Feeds, Red Dragon Poultry, E-Pig Farm, Fresh Options Meat Shop chain, and several other casual dining restaurants in Pampanga.
A rough start
Lo, a 58-year-old veterinary doctor turned entrepreneur, started his career as a professor at his alma mater, the University of the Philippines-Diliman, shortly after graduating in 1983.
He shared that after his brief stint as a professor, he decided to pursue his veterinary practice though opening a pet shop and animal clinic. However, he noted that later on, he realized that it wasn’t his calling.
“After my teaching career, I decided that I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in the United States. But I was denied of US visa, so I settled on putting up a pet shop and clinic of my own,” he said.
“To cut the story short, it was short-lived because it wasn’t really my passion. I realized that I wasn’t into companion animal but more of food animal,” he added.
Lo furthered that in 1985, he then ventured into quail egg production business, through the help and support of his parents.
“Then, I started a quail farm somewhere in Novaliches, but it didn’t succeed because it was a seasonal business. The demand is only high during Christmas, Chinese New Year and summertime. After that, it’s really ‘matumal’ so I had no choice,” he explained.
It wasn’t until 1988 that Lo finally get to taste some sweet success after he found a more viable and profitable business through contract growing.
“One of my classmates encouraged me to invest in contract growing. We partnered and we rented a farm here in San Simon. We supply chickens for various companies and the business eventually got better, that by the end of 1991, we were operating three farms in the province,” he noted.
However, around the same year, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and his business was affected. Another challenge that came shortly after was his problem of suppliers providing him substandard feeds.
“Once, I partnered with an integrator, and he said I’ll be earning five pesos per bird, but the outcome didn’t even come close to what he promised. I looked for other integrators but sadly, they all tell me the same things,” he shared.
“I felt that they can manipulate the outcome, and it was really unfair for me as a small time contract grower at the time,” he continued.
Through the experience he gained as a contract grower, Lo then decided to become an independent grower, after he realized that the business would thrive on its own.
What he did next was a wise move to install his poultry with their own feed mills, to solve his problem of suppliers providing substandard feeds.
“I had a background on animal nutrition, so I formulated my own feeds. We started through the ‘pala-pala’ system. And we saw and proved that the outcome was better,” he said.
Still on the process of regaining stature, Lo was again tested by another hardship when massive importation and smuggling of chicken hit the local industry.
“The mass smuggling in Clark greatly affected us. During that time, the price of chickens really went down, and in a span of two months, I lost over 30 million pesos. I was planning to close the business and file for bankruptcy,” he noted.
He shared that the problem was solved when local independent growers teamed up and made a bold step to ask then Agriculture Secretary Edgardo Angara for help. “Thankfully, he was able to listen to us and put a stop to the rampant smuggling.”
Success, at last
Lo bounced back with a renewed mindset and a new addition to his product range: A piggery.
“After we recovered, I realized that I cannot depend on just one product. At the time, there was high demand for swine growing so I took the opportunity to open a piggery. That’s when we started to get recognized,” he shared.
In 2000, he established Lodestar Feedmill and e-Pig Farm as two separate companies. The swine farms included breeding, farrowing and fattening operations.
To further hone his entrepreneurial skills, Lo obtained a Master in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City in 2003.
Armed with extensive knowledge and his eagerness to drive the business forward, Lo then invested into a meat shop venture in Angeles City in 2008—a venture that would later on expand outside the province and become one of the country’s trusted and leading meat shop in terms of quality and standards.
Fresh Options offers fresh pork and chicken meat as well as beef, marinated meat, and ready-to-cook food.
Today, the meat shop has over 156 express and full-scale stores located in Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Bataan, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Metro Manila, Cavite and Laguna.
To solve the problem of slow moving products in the meat retailing business, the entrepreneur then went beyond meat shops and established several food and beverage outlets in Pampanga and nearby provinces.
“As we know, consumers have their preferred parts. Like for the chicken, they usually buy drumsticks and wings. For the pork, they like the ‘patahim.’ We have to solve that, so we developed new value-added products and put up some restaurants to make it balanced,” he noted.
Today, RDFFLI operates several restaurants and cafés such as Roberto’s Coffee and Tea, Meats & Match, and Robbie’s Deli in a Hurry—the country’s first food vending machine located in Clark Freeport.
“I concentrate more on food and beverage lately. We are currently planning to open up another food venture, the Hot Kitchen by Fresh Options,” he revealed.
The “pa-luto style” food venture, as what Lo explains, will cater to condo-dwellers in the Metro who are always on the go and who doesn’t have time to cook, given their busy lifestyle.
“We are targeting to open two branches this year, one in Grace Mall in Taguig and one in Urban Deca along Edsa in Mandaluyong,” he disclosed.
The secret to success
Lo said the victories and feats he enjoy today is a testimony that when you do not give up on your passion and stay positive on your vision, life has a way of rewarding you in due time.
“I believe that the secret to success is really persistency. You have to persistent on your goal, and you have to look beyond problems and circumstances. For me, when trying times come, you have to face it with enthusiasm and confidence,” he shared.
“Moreover, you should also love what you’re doing and be passionate about it. Stay dedicated and innovative,” he added.
On handling the business, Lo relayed that he is very involved and hands on. He furthered that he also see it to it that his employees of over 1,800 strong are well-benefitted.
“I’m the type who puts too much effort on really getting involved in the business and our workers. But I also trust my staff when it comes to the daily operations. I have a very effective management team and I believe in their capacity and knowledge to help grow the business,” he said.
The hardworking leader shared that he finds time to relax through travelling abroad whether it be in Asia or in Europe. (Erika Mariel Gines)