Q&A with NCCC President Lafayette Lim on Competing with Goliaths

Lafayette Alvarez Lim is the President of the New City Commercial Center (NCCC), the biggest consumer retail chain in Davao with over 40 stores. He won the 2019 Agora Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship – Large-scale category, one of the few people from outside Metro Manila who won an Agora. In this interview, he shares how to compete with bigger national players.

Q1: Manila-based retailers have entered Davao, what is your broad strategy to remain relevant?

A1: At the heart of how we do business is the desire not only to be a leader in everything we do, but to be a leader who cares. This caring is felt most within the company in how we take care of our employees and is reflected in the service we give to our customers. This also goes for the value we give to our business partners. This familiarity also allows us to be more in touch with the needs and desires of the customers, strengthened by the capability of each store to operate according to the area’s requirements. We are also making use of innovation to make sure we are in step with current technologies to serve our customers better.

Q2: How do you differentiate NCCC from the growing number of players in Davao?

A2: We are a homegrown company that started in 1952, and through the years we have become a brand that is proudly Davao. Davaoeños know of our caring service not only to our customers but also to our employees, who we refer to as our associates.

With over 5,000 regular associates, our success is many different stories that are intertwined together in the tale of NCCC. Each employee, whether they are still new or have been working for us for more than 30 years, even at the general associates level, are given benefits that are meant to give them a better quality of life.

Q3: You operate a group of companies. How do you decide what opportunity to exploit?

A3: When we first became a group of companies in 2003, it was to allow our buisness units to expand on their own. From NCCC as a single company came NCCC Supermarket, NCCC Department Store, Hardwaremaxx, HB1, NCCC Malls, Citifoods, and other companies. Being aware of the strength of our brand and our capable workforce allows us to dive in to opportunities that are clearly to our advantage.

Q4: Your company recently acquired Victoria Plaza, Davao’s first mall. What is your future expansion going to be like?

A4: NCCC will always cater to the needs of the many. When we opened our first NCCC Supermarket and Department Store in 1978, we were able to become the store of choice with our assortment and pricing. When we opened our first mall in Davao in 2003, despite looking more luxurious than our usual stores, we provided the same service and pricing. I remember that at first our customers were worried that it is no longer the NCCC they are comfortable with. But they soon realized that it is still the same NCCC made better for them. When we opened our 2nd mall in Davao in 2018, we wanted to show our customers that they deserve better things by giving them an even more elegant mall.

While we continue to tap new markets by expanding our business units to more areas, within the property of Victoria Plaza we will slowly develop a destination that will highlight the best that Davao has to offer.   

Q5: What are the mistakes you wish you did not commit in your businesses? What key learnings can you share from these? A5: A few years ago we caught the expansion bug, and while it did increase our topline, our bottomline suffered. We could have put a bit more due diligence, but even with the most thoroughly studied projections there are still risks. We have already done rationalization and closed several stores. We are now more careful, without being overly cautious. With the right data and the right attitude, it is not impossible to soar high.

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