‘Putting customers first’

GIRL BOSS. Cheryl Anne Pages- Alba says business is not for the weak-hearted. You have to be tough in making decisions whether it’s for an employee or having to open or close a store. (Contributed Photo)

ENTREPRENEUR Cheryl Anne Pages-Alba wants to grow the House of Lechon brand outside of Cebu.

“My dad is obsessed about expansion. He wants to replicate the business. That is also my dream— to see the brand grow, make it big and bring it out of Cebu,” said Alba, founder of House of Lechon, one of the food business units under the Pages Holdings Inc.

Before the year ends, Alba said the House of Lechon will open its first franchise in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, kicking-off the company’s plan to grow the brand outside of Cebu through franchising. Besides Bohol, they are also in talks with potential franchisees in Bogo and Dumaguete cities.

But while interest to franchise the business is strong, Alba is taking her time, dedicating more of her resources to training her staff and making the customers happy.

“While my Dad is into expansion, right now, I am in the customer obsession phase. I want to satisfy every customer that dines at House of Lechon,” she said.

For Alba, putting the customer first is one of the keys to making a business last. Building a healthy relationship with them through providing them the best possible experience translates to loyal patronage and, eventually to skyrocketing sales.

She acknowledged that the one who really determines the business’ future is the customer.

“We need to put their perspectives and needs far ahead of our own,” she said.

The House of Lechon wasn’t the first business she handled. Right after college graduation, her entrepreneur parents Bunny Pages and Ma. Elena Zaldarriaga entrusted to her My Playroom, a day care center in SM City Cebu and Ayala Center Cebu. Soon after, she was asked to handle the franchise of Taters which she was able to grow significantly.

But the lechon restaurant was the business that tested her entrepreneurial skills and character. After a failed business partnership, Alba started from ground up. The family decided to pursue the business on their own, seeing the immense potential and market opportunities around the lechon business.

“When we had to do it on our own, I knew I wasn’t just getting into a simple food business. I was getting into a lechon business, which is very critical to every Cebuano. Cebuanos feel strong about lechon so I have to do it right,” she said.

She confessed she was a bit scared to pursue the venture knowing how competitive the lechon business is in Cebu. But she didn’t give in to her fears, rather, she patiently set up the business, one step at a time.

“I remembered there was a time when I called my Dad and told him I will change the name of the restaurant just when everything was already printed. There I learned that when you want to be in business you have to be stubborn. If you think and feel it’s the right thing to do, you have to go for it,” she said.

She was right. Naming it House of Lechon captured what she long envisioned, a restaurant that would welcome everybody “just like when you’re at home.”

Besides roasted pigs, House of Lechon also offers other delectable Filipino dishes. Now the business has grown to four branches—its flagship branch on Acacia St., which is near Cebu Business Park, Talisay City, Robinsons Galleria and on Don Jose Avila St. which is near Cebu Doctors Hospital.

Looking forward, Alba sees a brighter future ahead.

“This is one of my family’s success stories and this (expansion) is just the beginning.”

What was your first job?

I remember showing up to my first job that day but not really knowing what job I was there for. My Dad just told me to “show up” so I was pretty much just in my Dad’s office bugging him the entire time. I sat on his chair while he had to sit across me, it looked like I was his boss. This was after the first business I opened when I was 18, a tailoring shop called Sastre.

Who inspired you to get into business?

My Mom and Dad. They’ve both created something from zero. My parents don’t have a hard time asking us siblings to work—we saw both our parents putting so much love and passion in their work—seeing that growing up you know...“what is caught is what is taught”—became natural for us kids to have that genuine work ethic. Contrary to others’ belief (being an only girl with four brothers—John, Charlie, Randy and Michael), I was the opposite of spoiled. My Dad always made me work for what I wanted and that resonated with me as a little girl until now—no hand-outs.

Both my parents are creative and you understand that you can take that creativity, be able to share it with people, make a business out of it—it’s like a win-win concept for all—this opened my eyes to what entrepreneurship is all about—using your talent and skills as a core and building an empire around that—this is the kind of amazing world I was brought up in.

When did you realize this was what you were meant to do?

Having four kids and realizing I had to start adulting. I definitely am not the stay at home mom type as well and so I experimented with running businesses/projects before founding House of Lechon.

Looking back, work was fun when it started, until you realize you have 300 people and their families who rely on you. It was always in my personality to have a higher cause of “the why” I would do things—the fun part would not sustain that answer so the load of 300 families on my shoulder became my purpose—to provide jobs helps the community. I am doing my share and I want to grow that purpose as far as I possibly can.

Why did you pick this type of business or industry?

Watching my brother Charlie apply his creativity into his restaurants paved the way for me to follow suit. He made it look so enjoyable.

Where did you get the trainings you needed to succeed?

Travel opens your world like no other—you experience elevated ambiance, service, food and branding so on. I get bits and pieces from my travels and inject them to our businesses.

Transferring from one school to another also taught me to be out of my comfort zone a lot and it made me tougher. From preschool up to university I’ve been exposed to a total of seven different schools. Being a kid and constantly being in a new place with a set of brand new people you are thrust with having to know how to deal with different personalities, at the same time discovering and growing your own values and traits—in hindsight this truly taught me: people management.

I was able to harness my leadership qualities too at an early age. I was the only female this year to receive an award from my college—Center for International Education— where I got a recognition as Distinguished Young Entreprenuer. I also read many business books, watch Ted talks and motivational clips. Having a mentor like my Dad, who thinks business is a game and we play to win is also the best training I can get.

How many times did you fail before you succeeded?

I’ve failed far more times than I’ve succeeded that’s for sure but I don’t keep it at being a failure. Being a leader means your main job is to solve problems and flip it into a solution. My team knows I don’t take no for an answer and so now, they too have this mindset of everything is doable.

House of Lechon wasn’t doing too well in it’s first two years that my Dad wanted to either close or sell it. And so I have this really funny analogy that owning a business is like being stuck in a one-way relationship—you have to be a martyr but for how long can you take it until it loves you back?

I wouldn’t give up on this brand because I knew in my soul I could flip it—I did— now it’s one of my family’s success stories and I am proud of this accomplishment. This is only the beginning.


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