Thursday, January 12, 2012
FIL-AM BUILDS BUSINESS FROM 'CHICHARON'
Nothing in the life experiences of Arsenio “Tito Al” Alpapara can be considered as incidental. From a Major in the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary to Pennsylvania factory hand, he’s built on these lessons to become one of the most successful Filipino-American businessmen in the United States, overseeing a food distributorship that stretches from the nation’s capital to Chicago, New York, Florida and more recently, San Francisco, California.
Alpapara established 2A Marketing Center LLC as a 2-man operation in 1985. He’s perhaps best known for “Tito Al Chicharones” which was his first product and symbolic of his business philosophy that emphasizes quality, continuous improvement and unrelenting fealty to his suppliers and the consumers they serve.
“Hilig ko talaga to be a military guy because I wanted to serve the country,” he revealed to the Manila Mail. He joined the PC right after college and rose through the ranks until in 1969 he got an offer from Dole Pineapple. “When they told me my pay would be 3 times more than what I was earning from the military, I decided to go,” he confessed.
Without any training or experience in sales, he believes Dole wanted him for the discipline, sense of responsibility and leadership skills he acquired in the PC. “They hired me because of those qualities,” he averred, “and I started in the Dole rank and file but was soon promoted to regional manager.”
“Prior to that wala akong experience sa marketing. Zero! But that’s where I learned sales and marketing,” Alpapara explained.
Although they had a stable and relatively comfortable life in Manila (his wife was then a nurse at the Makati Medical Center), his family decided to immigrate to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where his in-laws had a flourishing medical practice.
“When I got there in 1979 wala ako trabaho so I started working as a factory helper,” he intimated. He later found a job as a route salesman for Snyder Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania.
His shift started at 4 o’clock in the morning. “I wasn’t used to the cold weather but I had to get up at 3 to get to work on time,” he said, a bit amused recalling those days. He was 34 years old at the time and admits it was hardly a walk in the park.
Reading the classified ads on his break time, he stumbled on a wanted ad for salesmen in a potato chip and pretzel company, Nibbles Inc. He decided to change jobs because he said, “I wanted to grow”.
“I still had to wake up at 3 o’clock driving my truck all the way to DC but it was the kind of job that I wanted to grow with the company,” he said. It entailed practicing the marketing and merchandizing skills he picked up working with Dole Philippines and he was soon promoted to supervisor then regional manager, leapfrogging co-workers who’d been working there for many years longer.
“Nainggit sila pero alam mo hard work lang yan at alam ko kasi ang negosyo,” he explained.
He was able to build contacts in the Metro DC region. “I wanted to have close touch with the Filipino community so I would stop by para kamustahin sila,” he said. It was in one of these visits to a Filipino-owned store that someone planted the germ of his business.
“Sabi niya why not put up your own business since nobody was doing it at may experience na ako dito,” Alpapara explained, “Sabi ko that’s a good idea so I decided to resign and put up my business in 1985.”
How the “chicharon” became his maiden offering has a story behind it too. A pork rind manufacturer from New York tried to convince Nibbles Inc. to hawk its product but it was initially shot down by the owner. Alpapara tried to talk his boss into changing his mind, sensing the “chicharon’s” vast potential in the large African-American population of Metro DC. Out of gratitude, the New York manufacturer asked Alpapara how they could pay back the favor so when he decided to strike out on his own, he asked them if they could also supply his new business. And that’s how “Tito Al’s Chicharones” was born.
“I started with Filipino stores only,” he revealed, “there were only 10 of them at that time in the Metro DC area. They saw how I did it, how I merchandize and how I brought to their stores whatever they wanted.”
He said he delivered only what the stores could sell on a weekly basis because he wanted to ensure that his wares were always fresh. “I don’t like storing left-overs in the warehouse,” he explained.
Alpapara gradually added more variety to his products, introducing pancit canton and pancit bihon noodles that he bought from Chicago. “Before that, they had to go to New York to buy those products. Now they didn’t have to go to New York because I can deliver to them directly,” he declared.
“Nung nakita nila gumaganda ang sales because Filipinos were going to their stores kasi marami na sila mabibili doon, that’s when the Filipino stores started to multiply,” he said. 2A Marketing now has clientele of over 200 stores in the Metro DC area, most of them Filipino and Asian establishments.
It was a symbiotic relationship, he conceded. “As they multiplied, lumaki ng lumaki din ako,” he noted.
And along with his business, Alpapara’s reputation also began spreading, especially the attention he gives to his products and the fact that he took good care of his suppliers. “I see to it that whatever money I get, I pay all obligations to my suppliers first. Binabayaran ko muna sila before I even think about buying nice cars or a nice house or taking long vacations,” he stressed.
“That’s the reason suppliers appointed me exclusive distributor; on time ako magbayad,” he added, “And I’m the only person na kaya ipagmalaki that I have the experience of increasing the number of stores in my area from 10 to 200.”
His company has exclusive distribution rights to Selecta Ice Cream, Magnolia tropical drinks and ice cream, Oriental Kitchen (siopao, sausages and dry and frozen foods), Rosan Dry & Frozen Foods, Silver Swan Soy Sauce, Mama Sita sauces and mixes, Mang Tomas sauces and roasts, Jufran banana catsup, Datu Puti vinegar, UFC (noodles, fruit preserves, banana catsup, soy and fish sauce), Excellent Flour Sticks and Ramar Food Products.
In addition, 2A Marketing is also involved in the import-export, manufacturing, sales and distribution of his “Tito Al” brand that has grown from the original “chicharones” to sausages and tocino, noodles, frozen vegetables, fruit preserves, soy and lechon sauce, banana catsup, popcorn, “kropeck” and pork and chicken siopao.
Although some of his products have already penetrated mainstream stores like the Giant grocery chain in Metro DC, Alpapara stressed that his “heart is still Asian. We should first help the small businesses.”
“The key really in this business is my background in the military where I got the discipline, responsibility and leadership; then from Dole where I got the sales and marketing expertise. Pinagsama ko lahat iyan. The bottom line from more the 22 years of business experience is you will grow basta naka-focus ka sa business and you enjoy what you are doing,” he explained.
“But my heart is still with the Philippines,” he confessed. He revealed that 98 percent of his products are made by Filipinos – the remaining 2 percent is composed of Thai rice that he points out, was actually developed in the Philippines – at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna province.
“I really want to help the Philippine economy. Every time I’m in a convention in the Philippines, I keep telling manufacturers: please, give us a clean product. Kasi minsan kapag volume na, hindi na pinapansin ang quality so what happens hindi makalusot sa FDA (the US Food & Drug Administration). Nasisira ang mga produkto natin, hindi na makapasok,” Alpapara says sadly.
“Established na ako, I’m just maintaining it now,” he humbly declares. Looking down the road, he sees more of his products being sold in many more places in the US.