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Francorp - The Franchising Leader in the Philippines

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Franchise Talk: 5 franchise brands with humble beginnings

5 franchise brands with humble beginnings
Starting small is not a hindrance to growing big through franchising.

Written by
Sam Christopher Lim
SVP for Marketing and Strategy, Francorp Philippines
When one thinks of franchising, big players such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, and Jollibee, among others, usually come to mind. As big as these brands are now, one should remember that most of them started out small and, more often than not, were born out of financial necessity.

The following homegrown brands are no exception. These brands prove that starting small is not a hindrance to growing big through franchising.

1. Mont Albo Massage Hut

Mont Albo Massage Hut is a spa franchise specializing in hilot, a traditional Filipino massage. While Mont Albo is now a go-to place for massages and scrubs, that wasn’t the case ten years ago when its founder, Dr. Nol Montalbo, was just starting out in the business.

Montalbo, who graduated from the UP College of Medicine in 2006, put his medicine practice on hold to help his parents make ends meet after their family businesses closed down. He decided to start a soap-making business, even pawning his beloved watch to a friend for P1,500 as capital. He made soaps in Batangas and delivered them himself all the way to clients based in Metro Manila.

Montalbo’s big break came when a client ordered 70,000 pieces of soap for Christmas. With the money he earned from this order, he was able to rent an old two-storey apartment in Makati, which he turned into a massage clinic in 2007. It grew into what we now know as Mont Albo Massage Hut, and it had its first franchised outlet in 2010.

2. VIBES Massage

Dante Tiosan became blind after overdosing on liver medicine in 1974. It took him another five years to accept his fate, and decided to learn how to massage in order to make a decent living. In due time, he became a massage instructor, training other blind individuals how to make a living through massage.

However, Tiosan noticed that his students still can’t find jobs even after finishing their training. In 1991, he decided to go caroling with some friends in order to raise money for a livelihood project he was developing for blind massage therapists. This project turned into a full-fledged company, the Visually Impaired Brotherhood for Excellent Service, Inc. (VIBES), the holding company of service franchise VIBES Massage.

Today, VIBES Massage has more than 50 branches nationwide, and has provided jobs to more than 530 visually-impaired massage therapists.

3. Sitsirya Sari-Sari

In 1983, husband and wife Eufracio and Era Ocampo found themselves unemployed. At the time, they both turned down opportunities to work abroad since their children were still young. Instead, the Ocampos decided to start their own business, using P10,000 worth of abuloy (donations) from Era’s father’s wake.

The Ocampos started selling traditional Filipino snacks and delicacies such as tamarind candies, pili nut tarts, pastillas de leche, piaya, and chicharon, among others. The name Sitsirya Sari-Sari came about when the Ocampos lost their original business name after failing to renew their business registration. But it proved providential, as the new business name was catchier and resonated well with customers.

Today, Sitsirya Sari-Sari is open for franchising, and now has more than 20 branches nationwide.

4. Lugaw Queen

Lugaw Queen really lives up to the phrase “tubong lugaw.” In 2007, husband and wife Sherwin and Beverly Aquino decided to put up their own “lugawan” in San Pablo, Laguna using a capital of just P1,100. The couple, both holding down day jobs at the time, ran the business by themselves—from buying and preparing the ingredients, to cooking the food, and even manning the store 24/7.

This came at a cost, and Sherwin wanted to close up shop once he saw how the business was affecting Beverly’s health and well-being. But Beverly did not let up as she saw that the business was already thriving. Indeed, all their hard work paid off as Lugaw Queen now has more than 20 outlets in Luzon, only seven of which are company-owned. Beverly even quit her day job to focus on the business full-time.

5. VJ Batangas Lomi House

Who knew that a humble taxi driver can become Laguna’s “king of lomi?” Celso Visleñio, a former factory worker, just wanted to find ways to supplement his income as a taxi driver. As a Batangueño, he immediately thought of lomi, a thick and savory noodle soup that is well-known in his hometown.

Using his personal savings, Visleñio opened the first VJ Batangas Lomi House in 2000, which he named after his youngest son, Victor Jay. He set it up in the vacant garage of his uncle in Laguna—where there is also less competition for Batangas lomi—using cooking equipment borrowed from relatives. To make his lomi house truly unique, Visleñio used an old family recipe he learned from his uncle.

VJ Batangas Lomi House eventually became a family business, as Visleñio asked his family members to help out, including his siblings who were overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Today, this unassuming lomi house has more than 20 branches in Laguna, and wants to achieve nationwide growth through franchising.

For the past 20 years, Francorp Philippines has been in the business of helping small enterprises grow through franchising. To know if your small business is ready to franchise, attend the How to Franchise Your Business Seminar on Jan 18 or  take a free franchisability test. Visit or call (02) 638-3149 for more details.


Sam Christopher Lim is the senior vice president for marketing and strategy at franchise consultancy Francorp Philippines; president of U-Franchise Sales &Management; and chairperson and director for special projects for Asean integration at the Philippine Franchise Association.