It is not the conditions at the start of your life that ultimately determine where you end up. Through hard work, perseverance, and determination, you can achieve anything. In this blog post, we will talk about the rise of Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong, the founder of Jollibee. It is also a story of finding opportunities amidst difficult times. Today Jollibee is famously known as the most dominant quick-service restaurant in the Philippines, with over 1 200 outlets. But its beginning was much more humble.
Life of Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong:
For Tony, life did not start easy for him. He was the son of poor Chinese immigrants from Fujian, born on January 5th, 1953. His family migrated from southeastern China to the Philippines for a better life. He became involved in the restaurant business early when his father opened a restaurant. From a young age, Tony helped his family by washing dishes bussing tables, and serving customers. The restaurant’s success enabled Tony to pursue a degree in chemical engineering from the University of santo tomas.
Upon graduation at 22, he saw an advertisement for an ice cream store franchise called magnolia dairy ice cream. Tony and his wife visited the Maine Magnolia ice cream plant, and he saw that it was an excellent opportunity to support his future family.
Beginning of Jollibee:
In 1975, Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong and his wife, Grace, decided to open two small ice cream parlors in Cabal Cuisine City. During that time, numerous ice cream shops had minimal distinguishing factors. To set themselves apart, they implemented a strategy that focused on maintaining a clean store, providing exceptional customer service, and serving more giant scoops of ice cream. Mr. Tan quickly realized the importance of exceeding customer expectations and increasing product demand.
From Ice Cream Parlours To Fast Food Restaurants:
The family decided to introduce sandwiches and burgers to their food menu. They noticed that the hamburgers were selling better than their ice cream, which prompted the founder to rethink their business strategy. Upon receiving advice from a management consultant named Manuel C Lumba, the family decided to change their ice cream parlor into a fast food restaurant.
In 1978 they decided to shift to hamburgers as their focus and also to professionalize their management. They realized they needed a more organized group, including store managers and trained people.
Now what would they name their business? Tony and his business partners came up with the idea that Filipinos are always very busy yet happy and smiling. Mr. Caktiong and his family decided to use a smiling red bee. They chose a bee because it represents hard work, and honey represents the sweet things in life. The jolly prefix was meant to inspire happiness and enjoyment. Hence the name Jollibee. They had some great initial success, and the stores started expanding.
Success Of Jollibee:
The largest multinational hamburger chain in the world that we all know of, McDonald’s, decided to enter the Filipino market. Many of Tony’s friends advised him to try to sell the business as soon as possible. They said to cash out while you still can. After all, how can a small local Filipino company with only five stores take on the leading multinational hamburger company in the world? McDonald’s was the one that practically invented the hamburger.
But this was the moment of truth for Tony, a moment that tested his faith in God and would test his hope and ambition. Most people in his shoes would have immediately sold out of the business. Tony was unlike most people; he believed in himself and his business and decided to dream big.
“I believe I can succeed in the hamburger business. Even against the biggest player in the world.”
In his most profound darkest moments, when doubt started to creep in, he remembered his father’s advice, who was also in the restaurant business. His father said, “In the restaurant business, the taste counts.” While the direction seemed elementary, it was essential advice that Tony would never forget. After all, customers kept coming back. Tony was convinced that Jollibee could offer better-tasting products than their competitors, even better than McDonald’s.
In 1979 Tony and his brother went to the u.s to study the fast food business. They spent a couple of weeks looking at the equipment used, the retail outlets, the food served, etc. They decided to copy many of those aspects and benefited from tested business practices. When they came back, they started further expanding. They waited until each store made money, and then they would build the next one. They always retained their leadership position with this strategy, as their customers loved their products.
Even as McDonald’s came into the scene as a significant competitor to Jollibee, Jollibee understood the Filipino market by incorporating Filipino sweet blends in its specialty and understood what it sought. Filipinos also like to smell everything they eat, so they included the laughable scrap tagline. These were all things that McDonald’s did not understand.
Famous products of Jollibee:
One product that Filipinos loved, especially early on, was a chicken product that Jollibee introduced. It was a chicken joy product, some of the tastiest chicken you could find anywhere. Today it is one of Jollibee’s best-selling items.
But the early days of Jollibee were challenging. They were tough, and Tony took many risks and made many mistakes.
Tony thought that roasted chicken would sell more for Filipino customers than crispy fried chicken. But he was quickly proven wrong, and he switched back to crispy fried chicken when he realized his mistake. Jollibee continued to expand its range of products from ice cream to burgers and sandwiches to rice and chicken meals up to its trademark spaghetti.
Tony spent a lot of time perfecting the taste of jolly spaghetti with the help of his sister, along with extensive research and development, to perfect the taste. Today jolly spaghetti is an iconic part of the Jollibee menu. Due to some of their risks, there were times when they would lose money, but Tony always had faith. He believed that anything was possible and continued to have high hopes.
Jollibee food corporation:
Today it is a major dominant player in the food service industry. Combined, Jollibee food corporation controls over 4 000 stores. Here are some of the brands that Jollibee food corporation now owns or controls.
Jollibee: The original one that we all love.
Greenwich: A fast food restaurant servicing Italian Maine and side dishes.
Red Ribbon: A bake shop offering a wide array of baked goods and cakes.
Chowking: A fast food serving Chinese food such as noodle soups dim sum and rice bowls.
Mang Inasal: A barbecue fast-food restaurant chain.
Burger King Philippines: They manage the operations of the American hamburger fast food chain in the Philippines.
Smash Burger: An American fast casual hamburger restaurant chain that they acquired.
Yonghe King: A Chinese fast food restaurant specializing in noodles.
Hong Jong Yuan: A Beijing-based Chinese fast food chain:
Tortas Frontera: US-based Mexican food restaurant
Panda Express Philippines: A joint venture with the Chinese American fast food company
The Coffee Bean And Tea Leaf: An American coffee chain
Jollibee is a super successful business with thousands of stores worldwide. But even when it was a small five-store operation, Tony has always had big dreams. When Jollibee was just a little company, he remembered that his vision was to create the largest food company in the world. Some people back then thought he was overly optimistic at that time. Today his dream seems reasonable, and his vision for Jollibee to become the most significant food player has yet to be realized. Jollibee has come a long way since its five stores.
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