Q&A with Aquabest President Carson Tan on Water Refill Station

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Carson Tan is President of GQwest Inc., marketer of over 400 water refilling stations under the brand names AquaBest, AquaQuest, and Living Stream. A former president of the Water Quality Association (Philippines), he shares with us the challenges of the water refilling industry composed of an estimated 20,000 establishments.

Q1: You were in the packaging business before starting Aquabest,. What made you enter the water refilling station industry?

A1: Entering the water refilling station (WRS) industry was initially a foreign venture until a friend and a business partner, the late Dr. Albert Ching, proposed the business plan to me. Even during the late 80’s, I was already a user and a believer of the renowned US made household Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) purifier system. It was so prevalent in the US while the Philippines was very much lagging behind in the water purification technology. The competition was also few since I only knew a handful of WRS that were present in the market. These two market situations opened a great opportunity that I just couldn’t miss. I invested as a silent partner and together with others we formed Bestlife Internationale in 1996. We initially intended to open WRS cum a healthy store offering food supplements. The latter didn’t take off so we decided to just remain as Aquabest WRS. A year later, we started offering franchising for our flagship brand and the company evolved as Bestlife Franchising. Since then, the company was in limbo with regard to the technology transfer from our supplier as it was held as a trade secret. However, the company only settled for a minimal commission basis from the supplier resulting to unmanageable consequences. To cut the story short, the initially euphoric franchising operation didn’t last long as debts piled up due to high operation costs with limited revenues. In year 2000, the company eventually went bankrupt forcing others to give up their shares. But as for me, this crisis opened up another opportunity. I believed in the business and so I took the risk of taking over. My family came in and bought into the shares of the company by infusing a million to pay off the debts to creditors and to jump start the franchising once again and the rest is history.

Q2: From water refilling stations, you launched a back-to-back laundry business for franchising. What’s the synergy and economics of having two franchises simultaneously?

A2: Both WRS and Laundromat are categorized as service franchise. The two complement each other since the by-product “waste water” rejected by the R.O. water purification system is stored for use in the Laundry service. This “waste water” is not dirty water but a much cleaner water that has passed through the pre-treatment stages of water purification making it ideal for laundry use. Likewise, the customer base of the WRS is tapped adding revenues to the enterprise while saving on staff, logistics and water bills.

Q3: Water refilling stations have been in a red ocean competition with prices dropping continuously. Only those who can offer a credit line or free dispenser use have a competitive edge. What’s the profit outlook of this industry?

A3: If even rice as a commodity can be differentiated, the same is true with water as the consuming public is growing aware of the different kinds of water, different levels of service and different qualities of the purification procedures and standards. Our commitment to better quality, value, service and technology are the four leverage factors that have kept and will continue to keep Aquabest differentiated from the rest. Even though Aquabest water is positioned higher and priced more than the other mom and pops WRS, by continuously building and protecting the Aquabest branding and positioning, I believe the people will also continue to trust Aquabest not just with their physical needs but also with their health and peace of mind. Although there is one threatening struggle which is the increasing logistics costs of transporting heavy water due to the increased number of traffic of motor vehicles across the metropolis. If franchisees were adamant in servicing their clientele beyond the boundaries of their localities, sooner or later, the profit margin will be so minimal for it to be profitable. For new franchisees, with the advent of high-rise condominiums, the prospect is bright due to its captured market with almost zero logistics costs. The WRS industry will continue to flourish as the demand continues to increase. However, WRS owners need to be closer to their customers for the business to be viable.

Q4: While the benefit of water refilling stations is purified water, the water becomes acidic and does not last long. How are you addressing this concern and trend towards alkaline water?

A4: Pure water should be neutral or slightly weak acidic in its pH level. With our new Aquabest stores, we have innovated our purification procedures where our end water partially passes through an alkaline-enhanced mineral carbon block to neutralize the acidity created by the RO purification.

Moreover, most of our Aquabest stores are equipped with Natural Alkaline Water Purifiers should customers choose to have their water as Alkaline Water instead of Pure Water.

Q5: Many independent water refilling stations have been caught for not complying with health and testing standards. How do you ensure consumer protection with your brand and franchises?

A5: This is where the monthly dues work for both the franchisor and the franchisees. We make sure that all stores nationwide are regularly visited and checked by our Customer Care Representatives (CCRs). A graded Reality Check Evaluation is conducted for the stores to conform to the standards of Aquabest. Should they fail the test, the franchisees could face termination of franchise or non-renewal.

Josiah Go

Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., and Chairman of Waters Philippines (the market leader in the direct selling of premium home water purifiers in the Philippines). He is Chairman / Vice Chairman / Director of over a dozen companies. Known as one of the Philippines’ most respected marketing gurus, he is the most awarded business educator of the Philippines having been recognized as one of the Agora Awardees in 1994, one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines in 2001, one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) of the World in 2002 (the 1st and only Filipino in Business Education given by World JCI in a competition of over 1,000 TOYMs), and one of only two Lifetime Achievement Awardees by the Association of Marketing Educators (2007), the youngest marketing educator to be bestowed this honor. He was also given the Brand Leadership Award during the World Brand Congress in India (2009). His accomplishments was recognized by the international community where he has been included in the 10th edition of the International Who’s Who of Intellectuals (England). He is also the first Filipino to have completed the Blue Ocean Strategy qualification process in Blue Ocean Institute in INSEAD, France and is the first in Southeast Asia to have taught this as a 3-unit, full semester course in a university. He specializes in the fusion of marketing and innovation using the lenses of data-driven entrepreneurship and teaches advanced marketing subjects like Market-Driving Strategies, Business Model Innovation, 5 Skills of Master Strategists, Marketing Innovation, Mastering Innovation and Defense Strategy. He has given talks and facilitated over 1,000 marketing seminars in the Philippines and internationally to teams in diverse industries, in different situations and contexts. A thought leader with 18 bestselling and recordbreaking marketing and entrepreneurship books, Josiah has taught at the De La Salle and Ateneo Universities. He is an Executive Scholar of the Kellogg Business School (in Marketing and Sales Management) as well as the MIT Sloan (in Strategy and Innovation). He also took advance marketing programs at Harvard, Wharton and at the London Business School. His industry affiliations include being National President of the Philippine Marketing Association (1991), Chairman of the Direct Selling Association of the Philippines (2002), National President of the Association of Marketing Educators (2004-2005). He continues to be involved in various advocacies aimed at youth empowerment and entrepreneurship namely, the Young Market Masters Awards (YMMA), Mansmith Innovation Awards, Day 8 Business Academy for SMEs, and the MarkProf Foundation.

One thought on “Q&A with Aquabest President Carson Tan on Water Refill Station

  1. Amazing blog and ya thank you for letting us know these great tips about aquabest. I love reading this blog. I just love this article. These tips are very easy to understand. I am planning to franchise and your website help a lot in making a decision.

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