FASHION retailer Golden ABC Inc. is set to broaden its global network this year, specifically in Southeast Asia.

Bernie Liu, chief executive officer of Golden ABC Inc., disclosed that the company will be ending 2016 with 700 stores in the Philippines and 50 stores overseas all located in the Asian region.

Golden ABC is the company behind Penshoppe, Oxygen, Regatta, For Me, Memo, Tyler and direct-selling outfit Red Logo. Four out these seven brands have a presence abroad, mostly dominated by the Penshoppe brand.

“The vision of the company is to become the most admired Asian fashion brand company,” said Liu in an interview.

The Cebuano businessman announced it approved last week six new sites in Vietnam for their planned store expansion.

At present, the group has about 41 stores outside the Philippines, with the most number of stores located in Indonesia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Bahrain. It is also present in Cambodia and will be opening its first store in Myanmar this month.

ASEAN strength

Golden ABC also has a strong online retail presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“I want to complete the ASEAN expansion first,” said Liu. Of the 10-member states in ASEAN, the company is not present yet in Laos, Brunei, and Thailand. “We are hopeful we will complete (our presence in ASEAN) by year end. This is our primary objective now.”

According to Liu, the company isn’t so keen on opening new territories outside Asia, saying the region presents wider opportunities for their fashion brands to grow.

“The newest now is Asia. There is so much potential (to grow here),” he said, adding that he won’t rush opening stores in the US and Europe, although his company has been receiving several invitations for store expansions in these markets.

“Once we penetrate, we intend to expand more aggressively in these existing countries which have a very huge market of opportunities,” he said. “We want to optimize first our presence in these territories before we even spread.”

Golden ABC has roughly 660 stores in the Philippines alone. Given the company’s aggressive expansion efforts, it is eyeing a total of 800 branches in 2017, including international stores.

Liu underscored that it is easier to manage expansion in ASEAN, as they don’t have to deal with the four-season climate. ASEAN countries also share similar markets and demographics.

“I want to put more focus and attention in ASEAN, which I think rightfully deserves the opportunity because that is really the new frontier, the new growth area,” said Liu, adding that the plan is to be present in territories not yet captured by the “big boys.”

Since 1986

Golden ABC has been operating for 30 years. Liu started his foray into fashion retail with the Penshoppe brand, the company’s usual point of entry when expanding both locally or abroad.

Liu’s entrepreneurial journey started at a younger age when he was exposed to the family’s lumber trading business.

He helped in accounting and inventory during the weekends and spent summers helping out in the factory because this meant getting an extra allowance.

As an architecture graduate from the University of San Carlos, Liu imparted all his skills in growing their wood business. He also used his skills in designing T-shirts and selling them in Cebu.

Aside from wood, Liu’s family also ventured into garments that eventually made him one of the pillars of Philippine fashion retail industry. His love for designing T-shirts led to the birth of Penshoppe in 1986, selling casual fashion targeted at the young market in the Visayas and Mindanao.

“From 1986 to 1996, I’d say we entered the market, explored what was available for us, learned the business. The second decade, we enhanced our product offering and expanded to the rest of the country,” said Liu.

Steering his plan for a global presence, Liu said he needed all the help he could get in all fronts— financially, human resource and technology. He transformed the family business into a professional organization.

Liu said they hired people who understood the company’s vision, maintained a healthy relationship with them and involved them in the business operation to continuously motivate and encourage them to perform. At present, the company employs about 4,000 people.

Changing with the times

Investing substantially in technology also helped the company grow big. Liu made a commitment to take his company digital to reach more customers and handle logistical requirements seamlessly.

“When you are dealing with millions of customers, you need to know them as much as you can—that is where technology comes in,” said Liu, adding that going digital has helped his company deal with customers, 50,000 stock-keeping units and inventory items.

Liu considers himself an early adapter when it came to technology. He was among the first to make use of bar codes in the Philippines. Today, his company is taking advantage of the availability of digital tools such as e-commerce and data analytics.

Liu sees online retailing as a channel that changes the way people do business and consumers’ buying behavior.

“We foresee that as a huge channel but we don’t discount the possibility that our customers still want to experience the brand in brick and mortar. It’s either you browse offline and shop online or you browse online and shop offline. It is all about a seamless shopping experience for our customers,” said Liu.

Asked for tips to entrepreneurs amid the entry of more foreign brands in the local retail scene, Liu said they have to level up, accept and recognize that what is happening now is the new norm.

“You have to level up by preparing. You invest and innovate. You look at best practices and how you can differentiate,” he said.

Liu is one of the featured business owners of PLDT’s SME Nation “Make It Big” Advocacy. He was the keynote speaker during the Big Talks Conference held last week at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. The “Make It Big” campaign encourages small and medium enterprises in the Philippines to take their businesses to the next level through technology.