Mr. Donnie Tantoco, President of the Philippines luxury retailer, Rustan’s, speaks to Michelle Hespe about becoming one of five Global Honorees at the 2016-2017 IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) in Chicago. It’s the second time that this leading business has been the recipient of a gia in the past decade.
With passion, forward thinking and dedicated drive, in 1952, the grandparents of Mr. Tantoco founded a retail business in their living room. And without knowing it at the time, with that act, they put the wheels in motion for the revolution of department stores in the Philippines.
From that single department store that the innovative couple created 65 years ago, the group has diversified into other retail formats that cater to the lifestyle demands of its clientele. As the gia judges and jury saw, Rustan’s goes far beyond selling products. Now, for instance, it holds the exclusive distribution rights in the Philippines to some of the biggest international lifestyle brands in the world and has an engaged online community.
With its flagship store in the Central Business District of Makati in the Philippines’ capital city, Manila, and five stores across the country, Rustan’s is a showcase for an exclusive array of the finest and most sophisticated homewares brands. And the impressive spaces that the stores occupy are like worlds of their own. The latest Rustan’s home department for instance extends over two buildings and has a 3,500 square meter sales floor. “Rustan’s has exceptional visual merchandising,” the gia jury commented. “Strong themes are adopted, and there is a great variation in displays. The stores have good use of color and different heights in the displays, which makes things more exciting for customers. There is also a lot of green—green walls, plants and flowers used in displays. This creates a sense of nature and an atmosphere that appeals to the senses.”
“For Rustan’s to be acknowledged by the IHA Global Innovation Awards is an honor that is gratifying beyond all means,” says Tantoco. “Throughout the process of entering gia, we learned much about collaboration, team effort, and the value of working cohesively, under the guided leadership of two retail visionaries that are actually sisters: Ms. Zenaida R. Tantoco, Rustan’s Chairman & CEO and Ms. Ma. Elena R. Tantoco, Vice President – Home Division. I believe that our team dynamic is what led us to this award, and I am so grateful that Rustan’s is blessed with hardworking, kind-hearted and level-headed people,” he says. “Also, gia gave us the chance to be a part of the International Home + Housewares Show again, where we could source innovative new products, learn about trends from the experts, be updated on the retail industry, and network with like-minded people.”
Coming from a long line of people in retail, Tantoco knows that staying ahead of the competitors requires more than just the stocking of fine products. “It’s about going the extra mile when it comes to customer service,” he says. “We try to find a reason to keep our customers coming back, through workshops and events that educate and inspire them. We try to make our Home floor a showroom through visual display for instance—those displays tell stories!” Indeed, Rustan’s has become famous for its creative window displays.
Ultimately, Rustan’s is a department store that staunchly stands by its catch cry: “Serving Only the Finest.” The company’s vision is to be the finest, most trusted destination in Asia for awe-inspiring customer experience, and its mission is to work with partners to deliver innovative experiences with premium brands, exceptional people and inspirational stores. And although the company is a thoroughly modern one that embraces technology, social media and innovative thinking, the business has six main strategic pillars upon which its operations are based, and they are firmly rooted in sturdy, old-fashioned values.
First, Rustan’s believes in upholding respect. “Treat others the way you wish to be treated.” Second, unity is integral to the company’s ethics. “Work constructively and openly as one team with one, unified vision.” Third, sincerity is key: “Speak and act truly.” Fourth, trailblazing is something that has been handed down from Tantoco’s grandparents: “Challenge the impossible, and have the conviction to succeed beyond expectations,” they said. And fifth, accountability is something taken very seriously in this business: “Take responsibility for actions and deliver on our commitments.” Finally, pillar number six: nurturing. It is something that Rustan’s knows will ensure its growth: “Deeply care for and encourage the growth of the company and all its people.”
As Tantoco is fond of saying that simply offering products is one part of retail, but it’s really about the people and their needs and wants that lead to sales. “The key to retail is providing solutions for an under-served or for the un-served need,” he says. “It is important to inspire people, for them to imagine the products we have on offer as a part of their lives. We want our products to make that emotional connection with the customers. Then, if they take home something that is from our store, we are happy because we have made them happy. Likewise, if we remain inspired, that inspiration flows from us to the customer.”
If a business has been around for 65 years, and also remained a success during the time that has passed, it would be easy to rest upon laurels, however that’s not the Rustan’s way—Tantoco and his team thrive on keeping up with the times and ensuring that the business is always dynamic. And a part of that is making sure that the company keeps up the pace alongside technology.
Rustan’s has the typical online assets—a website, social media platforms and an app—and they also have a bridal registry and beauty websites. The company also recently invested in its top customers with a revamp of its Loyalty Program, FSP (Frequent Shoppers Program) Premium. “This takes care of the top-tier segment of our loyalty program with better benefits and a more premium shopping experience,” says Tantoco. “Alongside this revamp, we launched a shopping app to tie in all generations and offer rewards to all customers who sign up. We keep an eye out for new trends whether they are technological, design, or customer service-oriented, to make sure we are not missing out on something new to offer our customers.”
Being involved with the family from a very young age, it would be understandable if Tantoco sometimes tired of the often-frenetic pace of his world. However, on the contrary, he is continually excited and inspired by his job and the store that grew from that one business in his grandparents’ living room.
“Although retail takes a lot of energy, I believe it is the best training you can get in business,” he says. “The fast-paced work environment is fit for a certain personality, and retail also allows you to be creative—not just visually, but in terms of problem solving. However, above all of this, the best part of our jobs is the people. From the customers we serve, to the partners we work with, to our internal teams. We work with the best brands from around the world, so that, in itself, is priceless. We are continuously growing and learning from one another, and that makes every day exciting.”
To learn more about Rustan’s, visit www.rustans.com.ph.
For more information about the gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2017-2018, contact Piritta Törrö at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/show/gia-retail.
For more information about the International Home + Housewares Show and to pre-register for the 2018 Show, taking place in Chicago on March 10-13, 2018, please visit www.housewares.org.