When Sherika Tanmantiong’s New York-based sister told her about the Red Mango frozen yogurt craze that has hit the Big Apple, she knew there was something in it for her and her friend, Kelvin Gaisano. “At that time we were looking for a business to franchise,” she says.
The venture was a right fit for their résumé. Ms. Tanmantiong, niece of Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong and daughter of Ernesto Tanmantiong, president of the Jollibee brand, is familiar with the workings of the local food industry, while Mr. Gaisano has had previous stints with retail player Gaisano group, owner of the shopping mall chain of the same name.
But it wasn’t their prominent family names that clinched the deal when, after several e-mail exchanges with Red Mango’s founders, Ms. Tanmantiong and Mr. Gaisano went to Korea in 2008 to discuss their plans for Red Mango’s entry to local malls. The owners, unaware that the pair had a network of big businesses back home, were more impressed with their young age than anything else. “I remember them telling me, ‘I imagined you to be so much older,’” says Mr. Gaisano.
More an asset than a drawback, their youth also pushes them out of their comfort zone. “When you’re young you feel like you can take on anything,” says Ms. Tanmantiong. Being surrounded by people who have long been in the business has likewise kept them within earshot of indispensable knowledge. “I guess that’s another advantage of youth,” adds Mr. Gaisano. “You have mentors [and] people who are willing to teach you.”
But they also wanted to go against the grain. “They say in marketing that you shouldn’t think like you’re the target market,” says Ms. Tanmantiong. “But we understand our market because we are our market,” adds Mr. Gaisano.
While it took several months for the first Red Mango Philippines store to open in TriNoma in 2009, the long wait was more a result of careful preparation than a lack of readiness. “We weren’t able to find the right location right away,” says Ms. Tanmantiong. Searching for the right person to manage the business was also no easy feat.“We wanted to find someone with experience,” she adds. “And character,” Mr. Gaisano chimes in.
The two-year old venture now has branches in Eastwood Mall, SM Mall of Asia, Greenbelt 3, and SM Megamall. While the duo’s location choices depend largely on the availability of space in shopping malls, the decision to hold back on a franchising operation stems from a desire to nurture the brand at its own pace. “Some locations are just not in line with our direction for Red Mango,” says Mr. Gaisano.
Unlike the take-out fro-yo stalls mushrooming around the metro, Red Mango sees itself more as a hangout joint than a spot for a quick yogurt fix. Lined with comfortable chairs and tables that are more suitable for a study session than a snack stopover, Red Mango shops give off a cool cafe vibe that lures people to stay around longer than they would in other fro-yo outlets.
Seasonal food crazes, such as the once ubiquitous taro shakes, are as forgettable as they come, but both Ms. Tanmantiong and Mr. Gaisano are confident that fro-yo will be tickling taste buds for a long time. “I don’t think frozen yogurt is a fad,” says Ms. Tanmantiong. “People don’t think ice cream is a fad, so why frozen yogurt? It will always be an alternative to ice cream.”
And they’re not the only ones who believe in the business: Red Mango received the Most Promising Retailer award at the 12th Ayala Malls Merchant Awards held in July last year. But a bigger milestone could be the positive reception that the shop continues to garner among fro-yo lovers.“[We like] that many people talk about it and are happy about it,” says Mr. Gaisano.
This month, Red Mango is adding a new flavor to its menu just in time for Valentine’s Day: blueberry. More than these additions, however, perhaps it is the desire to keep customers cozy that will make the frozen yogurt madness —or at least, Red Mango—a mainstay after the fro-yo fever has cooled down.- Anna Patricia G. Valerio
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