Jorge Wieneke, co-founder of Potato Corner started his venture as an entrepreneur like most, initially with the need to earn more to support his growing family. One fine day, a friend shared how he grew his flavored popcorn business fast through SM. Inspired by this, Wieneke kept asking questions, one after the other. With full excitement, he shared his big plan to his wife and best friend, late Dan Berjemo, that he would be quitting his job to open a business to sell “something”.
“The big question was– what will we sell?” Wieneke shared animatedly.
Given that his kids loved French fries, he thought, “Why not have different flavors of French fries?” After many experiments, and the right partners, they completed the concept and it was ready. Their big break came with the opportunity to present to Ms. Teresita “Tessie” Sy-Coson, and they were given a space in SM Megamall. This was the birth of the original Potato Corner in October 1992.
Today, many entrepreneurs share mixed feelings about setting up in big developments such as SM malls. There is a myth going around that the cost to enter a mall is simply staggering and would eat up much of one’s capital. In reality, the mall provides a huge opportunity to jumpstart a new concept given the sheer number of people passing through the malls every day.
Wieneke’s journey with SM is a very colorful one. He has opened several brands and outlets in different SM malls.
“I remember having a conversation with Harley Sy, anak ng tycoon (child of tycoon Henry Sy, Sr.). He was very sincere in helping us launch different businesses. During the time we were newly opened, I remember Harley will buy buko juice and pass by our store. This was the time when management would (be engaged to) help us succeed – Harley himself. Untold story yan,” recalled Wieneke.
As he continued in the mall, he also ventured into businesses outside the mall to compare the growth pace given the attractive “freedom” from regulations and costs this presented. He itemized some pros outside the mall such as cheaper rent, no product lock-out and flexible operating hours. Despite just being ten feet away from SM, no one ate in his outlet.
“You are going against habit,” Wieneke concluded.
“I did all the marketing gimmicks you could think of – from discount meals to walking human advertisements. I didn’t realize that I needed a bigger marketing fund. It will take you several years to establish your brand outside the mall. In five years, I lost a lot of money,” lamented Wieneke.
“I went back to SM,” he declared.
Through the years, Wieneke has gained valuable lessons learned on the benefits of starting one’s business in the mall. He shares that the value added that entrepreneurs can leverage on with SM includes foot traffic, marketing support, expansion support, security and brand trust of customers with SM.
“When you are in SM these are the advantages: one – they build the brand for you, whether you like it or not. With 400,000+ foot traffic a day, it is like a billboard for your brand; two, there is psychological fulfillment, it gives you credibility; three, SM will help you expand. Kung ok produkto mo, SM will offer you other sites. This is the formula that will help you succeed,” Wieneke said.
Wieneke has seen this to be true in many brands, not only with Potato Corner. He is involved with Waffle Time, Marina Seafood and Tokyo Tempura.
“SM contributes in building the brand. Priceless yun eh. And sometimes, hindi nakikita ng mga newbie entrepreneurs,” shared Wieneke.
Today, Wieneke continues to promote entrepreneurship. He was invited to share his experience with OFWs through the SM Cares Global Pinoy Program. He also founded KalyeNegosyo, a non-profit initiative that helps mentor newbie entrepreneurs at the grass-root level with proper entrepreneurial skills. Also active in GONegosyo and the academe, he continues to share his thoughts on how start-up entrepreneurs can leverage on the growing malling culture in the country.