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The long, hard road to success in fuel retail
By Jun Jay Jimenez
Perhaps no other business demands the extolled virtues of patience, perseverance and hard work as that in fuel retail, as the story of Reynaldo Montoya illustrates.
Known to many as simply “Kuya Rey”, he is one of the veterans in the business, and quite well-known and highly regarded especially among his peers in his chosen dealership, which is Shell.
Especially in an industry that is dynamics and often influenced by external forces, finding success in the fuel retail is definitely not an overnight phenomenon, he explains.
Rey recalls his struggles during his youth: “My father died at age 45 and I was the eldest in a brood of 12. As a student, I earned money by doing odd jobs on my free time. At times when I didn’t have money to buy food, I just drank water.”
Now that he has succeeded in his chosen path, he is looked up to by his family and friends. As he starts handing over the reins of their family-owned network of gas stations to his son, Carlo, he looks back on the decades when he started out in the industry during challenging economic times.
The father and son tandem of Rey and Carlo makes good business.
Before Rey ventured into entrepreneurship, he earned a living as a bank employee. However, during the turbulent times which led to Senator Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983, the local banking industry went into a slump. He initially went to the United States to seek greener pastures, but after almost half a year, he realized that he might be able to support his family while still being at their side.
Charging his overseas stay to experience, he went back to the Philippines and thought that maybe his strength would be in buy and sell. As he was leafing through the newspaper, an advertisement for the rights to a gasoline station caught his attention. “I was conducting business from my in-law’s house then. I did not have my own house,” he says.
The hottest business venture that time was pan de sal. During the dealership interview, he was asked why he wanted to operate a gasoline station, and he responded that he wanted to run a business that he felt was a sure need – where people have “no choice” but to patronize. “I prefer a business that earns for me even if I am sleeping,” he said. Unfortunately, he lost in the bid for the said station.
It turned out that his fate had been set in the industry. Before the year ended, Shell sales representative Jerry Caracho got back to him to operate a Shell station in Marikina. Even if the station had been closed for two years, with worn-out ceilings and no available pumps, he said yes despite the apprehension of the people around him.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Rey took up the challenge and rallied his staff in rehabilitating the station. After a few days of clean-up and putting everything in order, Shell Lamuan opened for business.
“I learned that the previous owned had a legal case. Shell removed the pumps of the station for grave reasons,” he says. He also discovered that Meralco cut the station’s power due to unpaid electric bills. “I paid four months of unpaid bills. It was a good thing that I knew some people who helped reinstate the power in the station immediately. I went out of my way to pick up the Meralco crew because I was so excited to start my business,” he recalls.
“When I was starting, there were more mosquitoes flying in than motorists gassing up in my station,” he jokes. It turned out that the previous operator was believed to have been deceiving customers, so motorists were wary.
The challenges only fueled Rey’s determination to go further. He had to prove that the new station’s management was different. He went to great lengths and employed creative strategies to keep his business running. “I walked from my station all the way to Cubao, handing out calling cards to jeepney drivers and inviting them to gas up at my station,” Rey recounts. He gave away candies and drinking water to patrons every time they gassed up.
Eventually, his hard work paid off. Recommendations began to spread through word of mouth and the number of customers steadily increased.
As his business continued to flourish, Rey dedicated time to instill in his employees the culture of providing excellent service to customers. He would drive his employees to other stations to observe and adopt best practices. “After those excursions, we’d go back to my station and I’d ask each to write down what they have observed. I’d ask them one by one which they should do while in the station to provide the best service to customers,” he shares.
In the month of the station’s opening, he surpassed the volume of the previous dealer.
It was also during this time that Rey gathered courage to grow his family with another offspring. “I told my wife that with our earnings, we’re ready to have another child. That’s when Carlo came about. If I didn’t have Shell, Carlo wouldn’t be alive today,” said Montoya with a boisterous laugh.
After some time, Rey started expanding his business by opening additional service stations. He credits his accomplishments to principles of honesty and goodwill. “Everything you do out of goodness will be reciprocated with goodness. I believe that if my service is honest, customers will always come to my station.”
Another key to running a good and successful business is managing people well and making each person feel valued. According to Rey, in order to maintain a robust business and for it to thrive in a competitive industry, it is integral to ensure steady income generation flow without sacrificing the welfare of the people under your management.
Passing on the Legacy
Rey and Carlo exemplify the phrase, “like father, like son”. Following the footsteps of his father, Carlo now runs three Shell stations. “It was natural for me to love this business because this is what I have witnessed in my formative years,” Carlo says, displaying the same zest and propensity for manning a retail business as his father.
Furthermore, Rey has also become an inspiring figure to new dealers. He is always present during trainings to serve as a success story to younger generations of entrepreneurs. “I’ve realized that rich people don’t just dream; they work to make their dream come true and live it,” he says.