How can smaller firms slug it out with giants? WilkonStruct’s got the answer

Here’s a question often pondered by entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators alike: Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?

Without doubt, playing in one or both arenas has its own set of opportunities and challenges. For entrepreneurs looking to start a business, swimming in a big pond like the country’s currently booming property sector, for example, entails an almost-manic,conscious effort to not get left behind. With giants like Ayala Land, Inc., SMDC and Robinsons Land Corporation ensuring high entry barriers, how then would “younger”, smaller companies remain competitive—and, more importantly, actually succeed?

The key to slugging it out with the big guys, it would seem, is differentiation. In the case of WilkonStruct Development Corporation (WilkonStruct), a firm offering construction services, interior fit-outs and supplies, it means targeting a certain niche in the industry, leveraging on the company’s strengths, and, once they’ve established an excellent track record, making itself the Big Fish in its segmented little pond.

“Their (the big developers’) market is different from ours. They have the bigger projects, but we look for clients with faster turnover—mostly those starting their businesses,” shares Bryant Cuison, EVP of Operations for WilkonStruct. A current client of theirs, he shares, is a company who recently brought in a Korean café franchise to the country. Now on their fifth branch, the company commissioned Cuison’s company to do the cafés’ interior fit-outs.

“We target a market that doesn’t know a lot about construction yet, so they tend to [favor] companies like ours because we’re more hands-on. We work with start-ups a lot—our strength is in construction and interior fit-outs, so we work on restaurants, retail outlets—and when they grow and expand their business, we end up growing with them as well,” he says.

It’s a strategy that’s clearly worked out well for the company. “We have a basket of clients already. We may not be as big as other contractors, but we compete in the best way we know how. We’re not the cheapest—sometimes we’re the most expensive or we fall somewhere in the middle—but what we make sure is that we always stand by our word. When we promise to deliver in 30 or 40 days, we work really hard to hit that target,” Cuison assures.

TURNING TRAGEDY TO OPPORTUNITY

For a company that started as far back as the 1990s, WilkonStruct isn’t exactly a young player in the property sector. “We’ve been in the business for over 10 years,” Cuison informs, adding that the company got its big break when his dad, William, saw the opportunity to enter the construction market after the 1990 earthquake struck Northern Luzon.

“My dad was abroad the time of the earthquake. When he came back, he saw it as an opportunity to get into construction because of his architecture background. Before he would only do small projects, but because a lot of construction had to be done in Dagupan [and other parts of] Pangasinan, that enabled the business to grow,” shares the second-generation Cuison, who, together with his younger brother Patrick, now works full-time for the family biz.

“Our dad’s still very active in the company, but he’s leaving other things like operations, finance and marketing to both of us,” Cuison says. Both Management graduates, the brothers’ involvement in the company could not come at a better time.

Having worked in the corporate setting for over 10 years, Cuison says of the changes they’ve implemented since joining the company: “Before we came in, it was run like a mom-and-pop, but now it’s more organized, more professional. I’ve been in the corporate setting for a long time—I worked for both SM and Ayala—and I’ve seen how their systems work, how they grew…these things we apply now in the company. My brother’s in charge of finance and we’ve been stricter in terms of finances, how we manage our cashflow, project development…things like that.”

BUBBLE TROUBLE?

With the country’s property sector growing at an unprecedented pace in the last few years, it isn’t surprising that the risk of a real estate bubble has been on investors’ minds. But Cuison is confident that, bubble or no, WilkonStruct will still power through.

“Whether we have a healthy economy or not, we’d still have business coming in. Meron pa ring [there would still be] projects,” he says, adding that “as entrepreneurs, it’s all about survival. You can’t stop what you are doing just because people are saying there’s [bound to be] a bubble. Either you look for another market that needs your service or you reinvent your company. We’re not afraid…we’ve gone through a lot in this industry, and we’re still here.”

One strategy the brothers have implemented to sustain the business is leveraging on digital technology and social media. “It’s a good way to increase our prospect base because it’s very targeted. We started doing this just a few months ago—the first week we set up our Facebook page, we got six inquiries and we closed a deal. That’s not bad, considering we only spent R5,000 to set up the account and we got a good contract out of it,” he shares.

To further strengthen the company, a strategic partnership with Australian design and engineering firm Bryant Concepts is also in the works. “This is in anticipation of the coming ASEAN integration in 2015,” Cuison shares, adding, “We’re looking at different areas in the ASEAN region to expand our business. Indonesia in particular doesn’t have a lot of good construction systems, so we’re looking into that market as we’re strong in fit-outs.”

The grand plan, Cuison reveals, is to really get into property development. “Our vision has always been to be at par with the best in the industry. We already have a parcel of land in Antipolo that we’d like to start developing,” he says. “This year, our focus is really to stabilize the operations of the company. We’re getting there—we’re young and we have a lot of time to develop the organization. Hopefully, this year everything will be planned out, and then we grow full blast,” he ends.

Published June 22, 2014 at the Manila Bulletin. 

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