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Their Secret to Success: How this OFW couple became Entrepreneurs
One dream that most of the millions of overseas Filipinos (OFWs) share is owning and running their own business. After years, if not decades, of hard work, without the comfort of home at their side, creating a steady and sustainable stream of revenues would bring them closer to their families without sacrificing the material comforts that they have been enjoying. Many OFWs actually see this opportunity as a retirement goal, the reward for all the labor and loneliness they had endured. For one young couple, however, the dream was realized much earlier.
Today, Princess Abigail Lonina and her husband James are living the dream – they are enjoying secure and rewarding jobs in Singapore, while owning a posh spa in Metro Manila. They are not mere investors or “armchair” businessmen, but are hands-on managers who look into the operations and earnings of their spa every single day."
"Kailangan talaga na hands-on sa negosyo namin," says Princess, who is a high-ranking finance executive. "Dugo at pawis ang binuhos naming mag-asawa para makuha ang perang in-invest namin. We have to make sure we reap the rewards."
James keeps busy in a Singaporean IT company. He, Princess, and their two young children, Jhariza and Harris have been enjoying a happy life in the Lion City over the last five years. Their first business venture in their home country is a Cubao-based outlet of the Mont Albo Massage Hut, a spa franchise which has gained a name for its earnest, homegrown application of health therapeutic massages. Since its launch almost ten months ago, the spa has been attracting its fair share of loyal customers. Technology has made it possible for the Loninas to keep closer contacts with their employees. Cameras monitor the proceedings in the center and the internet has made communication instantaneous.
“We do random audits of the center from Singapore,” says Princess. “We have instituted systems that keep a check-and-balance while encouraging accountability. For example, all our masseurs and the receptionists keep tab of the number of customers who come in every single day. Their accounts should tally.”
Financials, always a sensitive issue, are likewise monitored closely through internet banking. “We do keep track of how much money was spent on operations, and how much money came in through customers,” says Princess. “Again, they should tally."
Perhaps the most challenging part of our operations is receiving feedback and cascading this to the team. Both Princess and James want to hear first-hand from the customers who visit the center their honest opinion on the service that they had received. “The feedback form given to customers is addressed and emailed to us,” says Princess. “We also have friends who visit the center and avail of the services, without our staff knowing they are our friends. Once we get all this feedback, we meet with the staff virtually once or twice a week. There has to be open communication.”
It does help that their own family members back home support the Loninas in this endeavour. The manager supervising the team is Princess’ best friend in college while the architect who supervised the construction of the spa was her sister. “That’s why there was no delay in building the spa,” she says. “I also talk to my best friend every day about what’s going on. I trust her.”
She also makes sure she communicates that same trust and support to her staff. “They are on the frontlines and they are the ones who meet with the customers,” she points out. “You have to motivate them to care about the business like their own.”
It is only apt that technology, specifically the internet, helps OFWs communicate with their loved ones. In the case of the Loninas, technology aided them not only in entrepreneur-employee communication but in discovering an opportunity that helped them better their lives. Internet surfing made them aware of the BPI Family Ka-Negosyo Franchising Loan product as well as the franchise of their choice - Mont Albo Massage Hut.
“Communicating with BPI Family Savings Bank was easy,” enthuses Princess. “Every document was sent and reviewed through email, and we chatted on the phone, if necessary. We had to go to the Philippines to transact about this loan only a couple of times, including signing the final documents. The distance was never a problem. The BPI team responded fast.”
The Loninas closed the deal in two months, then it took another three months to physically build the spa. “My husband and I would visit the Philippines every year. But when we got into the business, going back home became frequent.”
Vacation may not be at the forefront of their thoughts right now. Princess shares that in a few years’ time, they might open another Mont Ablo Massage branch.
The Loninas’ dream has expanded, and it is one they readily share with their staff in Manila
“I am an OFW, and I know the value of hard work,” Princess says, “That’s why I take care of my staff. We don’t treat them as simply masseurs. I keep in mind that I am now helping 12 employees whose lives depend on our business. Their welfare is always on our minds.”