Among the many lessons learned during the pandemic has been how communities support one another in times of crisis. Alfamart Chief Operating Officer Harvey T. Ong reflected on the importance of the minimart chain’s role in helping underserved localities with purpose as it expands and grows.
They go where they’re needed, shared Mr. Ong when asked about the status of the first and only minimart chain in the Philippines, especially during the last two years following the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.
“The purpose of Alfamart is a simple one. We try to uplift the lives of residents in underserved communities. The last two years have made us realize and appreciate how important our growth actually is to the people we serve,” Mr. Ong said.
As it expands, the store chain operator creates employment as well as business opportunities for its partners and for micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Faced with the pandemic, it had a choice to either close stores that were proving hard to operate or to find ways to support them and protect the jobs they provided. Without hesitation, Alfamart chose the latter in full understanding of how people would be affected.
This meant remaining open even when people were afraid to leave their homes and travel at a time when new variants of the virus were emerging.
“If we had chosen to close down for financial reasons, that would not have been fair to the community. To shut down these stores would mean abandoning the people who rely on us. When I look back, I think we did the right thing,” Mr. Ong said.
Not only did this save jobs and livelihoods, but this also created income opportunities for landlords and contractors that build the stores, Mr. Ong said.
Safe, personal community grocery shopping
Despite the pandemic, in the last two years, Alfamart opened over 400 stores, including its first stores in Zambales and Bataan. Today, the minimart chain has 1,225 stores Luzon-wide. This year it plans to open at least 200 more stores, also in Luzon.
Because of this expansion, Alfamart was able to create close to 3,000 jobs in the last two years.
In all of these locations, Mr. Ong assures that Alfamart embodies the same purpose that it aims to create in the communities it serves. “Beyond customer service, we create customer relationships. We build our brand with a notion of closeness and being in character with the communities that welcome us,” Mr. Ong said.
Curious to know what shoppers think, he once asked an elderly customer why she kept going to Alfamart. She answered, “Kasi sa Alfamart hindi ko na kailangan mag ayos (At Alfamart, I don’t need to fix myself up too much).”
“True enough, they’re in their typical Filipino house clothes – sandos, tsinelas, dasters. It goes to show that we have become part of their community, an extension of their pantry and their lives,” Mr. Ong observed.
When thinking about the different shopping choices available to local customers, Mr. Ong underscored that Alfamart’s focus is not on its competition but rather on the needs of its communities.
“This to us is sustainable growth –to make sure it’s not just us who will benefit from our expansion but the whole community as well,” he said.