How Did This Divisoria Boy Open The Only Fabric Store In The Mall of Asia in 2009?
Have you ever heard of the Cotton Depot? Charles Sy, the founder shares his story from the streets of Divisoria to the Mall of Asia in this podcast!
How did growing up in a family full of business people influence you?
Charles’ first job was in a company named Asiatic Development Corporation which is now named Axeia. At the age of 19, he was hired as a purchasing manager and even though he didn’t know much about the industry, he was still trusted to perform at a high level. He stayed there for around 4 years.
While working, he learned that when you have a mentor, you see both the good and the bad things. Charles looks for the good traits that are compatible with his personality and applies them. The bad traits and the ones that don’t fit his personality, he takes note of.
Would you say that influenced you and how you do business, how you train and how you treat your employees?
Charles grew up in Divisoria. There, the rules, if any, are a bit different. To some extent, they don’t even follow the government’s regulations. They take every opportunity to save more and to sell more.
Charles’ upbringing here had a huge effect on his initial mindset. He thought that being successful in Divisoria meant they were doing the right thing—even if in reality, nobody was benefiting from these.
When he went into corporate, the laws were implemented and upheld. Charles had to learn things from scratch. You can say Charles went from one side of the coin to another.
What did your parents think of your choosing to work in corporate?
It was a family friend that brought Charles into corporate. At the time, his parents were very open-minded. Out of six siblings, two of them were already working for the family business. With that leeway, Charles was able to experience new things. They were fine with him trying out new jobs.
Did you ever feel like you were supposed to be a part of your family business at some point in time?
Charles and his siblings have been training ever since they were kids to help run their business. It’s safe to say that Charles did not look forward to going back to the family business after he graduated. It was not going to be anything new, so Charles didn’t look for it after he finished his studies.
What was your first Business?
After studying in China, Charles’ parents loaned him piles of cloth that they weren’t able to sell for him to start a business. With the products and an investment of his own, he started his own business in Tutuban.
After a while, Charles began to realize something. He thought that the rest of his life could be dedicated to staying in that one store for 8 hours every day or opening up cloth stores in all parts of the Philippines. when he chose the latter, Cotton Depot was born.
Cotton Depot officially started when Charles sent a business proposal to SM. The proposal had no branding, no IPO whatsoever. Along with the proposal was just a commissioned drawing of what the store would look like. After a while, SM called him and approved of his proposal!
The first branch of Cotton Depot was opened at the SM Mall of Asia. As soon as the proposal was approved, they contacted Charles to say that they wanted to set it up the following month. Feeling overwhelmed, Charles had to ask for the aid of his parents for the inventory while he shouldered the expenses for the construction.
With the sudden emergence of Cotton Depot, Charles chose to close down his initial store in Tutuban and focused on Cotton Depot. There, he achieved his ROI in two years.
What led to this fast return of investment was the fact that Cotton Depot was the only fabric store in Mall of Asia during that time. In the whole of Pasay, they were the only ones that catered to the audience.
When you experienced this breakthrough, what did you do next?
Cotton Depot went on smoothly, but that didn’t exempt it from experiencing its fair share of hardships. The store has hard issues with mismanagement. Stores in a mall would usually be open for 12 hours 7 days a week and Charles isn’t always in the store.
Mismanagement happens when the boss isn’t present in the store. Without proper supervision, theft can happen.
Another problem they faced was the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy. Because of the typhoon, mall-goers would only buy necessities. The demand for cloth went down drastically. For months, the MOA branch of Cotton Depot wasn’t able to recover. This along with other external factors such as the increase in rent led to Charles’ decision to move his store.
Luckily, offers flooded from other malls to get his store—which all came after he went out of MOA.