Chester A. Lim on Cebu’s economic revival

Chester A. Lim is the president of the Cebu chapter of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA), the group behind the current Great Cebu Sale (GCS). GCS is a virtual sale hosted to help revive the economy in keeping with the need for social distancing during the pandemic. Lim is vice president of Cebu Belmont Inc.

To get to know him better, SunStar LIVE! did an email interview with him:

SunStar LIVE! (SSL): Being the oldest son of Josiefe and Antonio Lim, how were you prepared for your eventual role in the family business?

Chester A. Lim (CAL): My mother studied in a Catholic school and her attention was always being called for selling school supplies to her classmates. She used to live a comfortable life during her early childhood until my grandpa suffered a stroke. He was the breadwinner and overnight, the business which supported them was forced to close and my mom and her siblings had to work while studying to pay for their tuition and their day-to-day needs. With perseverance my mom was able to finish her degree. She got married a few weeks before graduation and immediately started a small hardware business (Belmont) with my dad. Seeing some of the opportunities in the export business, my mom went into the shell craft business. She traveled around the world to promote fashion accessories made from indigenous materials. I accompanied her at times during trade shows in Paris, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States in the ‘90s while I was still in high school and college. Though my mom was very much occupied in the business, she never neglected her duty as a mother and to discipline us in our studies and to remind us always to be faithful and never to miss Sunday Masses. My mother’s dedication to her family and her hard work prepared me and my siblings in our entrepreneurial journey. She serves as an inspiration to me to continue the legacy she and dad started. I am thankful that my parents exposed us early in the business and this gave me a better appreciation of it.

I started early in the business, selling inch floppy diskettes to computer shops and internet service providers like Mozcom, CNMS and GSI during my college days in the early ‘90s. I converted a room into a small office in our house in V. Rama to become my first software company called Cebu Software Creations. I closed the business when I left the country to pursue further studies in business in the US in 1999.

SSL: Now that you are in the company, what have you done to improve it?

CAL: Having been exposed to stores abroad, I proposed to my parents and uncle in 1997 to modernize our hardware stores by introducing computerized inventory systems and improving the shop floor which gave birth to the modern type of hardware, fully air-conditioned and equipped with POS counters. It was a risk to invest heavily in the facilities and the system but by God’s grace, our customers started to appreciate our facilities and patrons kept on increasing. We expanded our product lines from traditional hardware items to industrial and home improvement. Over the years, we slowly automated other manual processes including our accounting systems and e-commerce.

SSL: On your own, what other businesses do you have?

CAL: Since we are not allowed to venture into our own personal business as our guiding principle in our family’s constitution, I was assigned to handle other business units such as real estate housing (Colourfield Land Development Corp.) and commercial leasing (Belmont One Mall) and amusement (Anjo World Theme Park).

SSL: Which of the businesses do you like or enjoy best and why?

CAL: I always take pride in the business units I am assigned to take care of though they are diversified from our hardware business. They give me new challenges, new perspectives and a lot of new learnings unfold each day.

SSL: As president of the Cebu Chapter of the PRA, you have launched the GCS. How successful is it and does your group have any plans to extend the sale after Oct. 30 since Christmas is coming and the pandemic seems here to stay?

CAL: The GCS is a call-to-action to revive and stimulate the economy of Cebu after a long period of lockdown. During the early quarantine period, I was fortunate to be part of PBB (Project Balik Buhay) movement. In the course of our series of meetings with the different chamber leaders, we always had this question in our meeting: “How to bring back the economy?” I proposed the idea of bringing back consumer confidence. Thus, the GCS was conceptualized inspired by the Great Singapore Sale. To date, we have 6,000 visitors in our website with 36,500 views. Visitors include local, regional and international visitors. Thanks to my fellow PRA, Camille Aldeguer for taking the lead in the GCS campaign. I’m also thankful to Raki Urbina for organizing nine virtual learning sessions. The webinars will help retailers/businesses to equip themselves and help them in their struggle to overcome the challenges they are facing. We believe that GCS will help our fellow Cebuanos to a good start as they reopen their business. We also invited influencers, bloggers and media people to help individual business in their media mileage. Our initial survey shows that half of responders experienced five to 15 percent increase in revenue. An increase in revenue is an indicator that the GCS campaign is effective. To thrive in these trying times we have to be flexible and sensitive to the market and quickly bring the needs to the market before the competition. We also have to reassure our customers of their safety when visiting our shops and it is that confidence that will bring them back to our stores.

The initial plan was to do a monthly sale per industry. We will just probably have to wait for the outcome of this one before deciding to proceed with the next sale. Should it be extended, there will be a different set of offers and promos for the Christmas season.

SSL: What is your guiding philosophy in running a business and to what do you attribute your success in your endeavors?

CAL: We hire people with competence and character while we do business with conscience. Innovation is the heart of our growth. My father once said it is better to lose money than to lose face. My mother always reminded us to be frugal. Over the years, in the course of running our business, these tenets have been our guidelines.


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