The Department of Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship (DAME) of the College of Economics and Management (CEM) hosted the seminar “Niche Marketing” last May 20, 2023 at the Rural Economic Development and Renewable Energy Center.
Francis C. Laurel was the featured resource speaker of the seminar. An alumnus and former member of the UP Board of Regents, Laurel is the president and CEO of Toyota Batangas City, Inc., Toyota Camarines Sur, and Toyota Albay. He was also the president and CEO of YKK Philippines, Inc. for 40 years until 2017.
Laurel shared his expertise and experiences in using niche marketing to find business success over the years.
Laurel mainly talked about his journey with YKK Philippines, a subsidiary of YKK Corporation and widely known for manufacturing high-quality zippers and fastening products. The company was established in 1977, and Laurel said it was the most modern zipper manufacturing operation in the Philippines.
Laurel recalled that their initial business strategy was to accommodate 90% domestic and 10% export sales. However, they realized it was wrong when their actual sales reflected the opposite, with 85-90% export and 10-15% domestic sales. To rectify the situation, Laurel said that they turned to niche marketing. He defines a niche market as a small demographic with unsatisfied needs.
At the time, he found the domestic demand was for aluminum zippers, but YKK Philippines was selling more expensive nylon zippers. The company then focused on the niche market of garment exporters of dresses, bags, jackets, and jeans that used nylon zippers.
He said that the company had an advantage in being linked to the most famous zipper brand at the time, which made him decide to address the export market’s need by producing the best quality zipper at a competitive price.
Laurel highlighted always going back to the basics and discussed the 4 Ps of marketing–product, place, price, and promotion. He said that YKK Philippines promoted the technical ability to cater to little details their customers wanted as the firm had a casting plant that allowed custom-made zippers.
Throughout his talk, Laurel emphasized quality assurance and said that the quality of your products precedes its reputation.
He discussed the importance of anticipating changes in the market. “If you cannot anticipate, then you must react immediately,” Laurel emphasized.
He spoke on how YKK Philippines reacted when the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement began to be implemented. The company downsized as its target market shifted towards domestic demand and invested in equipment that helped niche customers.
Laurel also discussed how YKK Philippines adopted more aggressive marketing plans over time. He mentioned the famous YKK radio jingle in 2008 and the company’s digital marketing campaign in 2011. As a pioneer of digital marketing in the country, Laurel highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to innovate toward better, faster, and cheaper products to survive. He ended his talk by attributing the success of YKK Philippines to niche marketing.
Remund Jordan Labios, a faculty member at DAME, gave his remarks as the seminar’s discussant. He spoke about customer-centricity in Laurel’s talk, where the focus was always on meeting the customer’s needs. According to him, each action, whether investing in technology or people, was to help serve the customer better.
Labios also recognized that YKK Philippines’ digital marketing push was a way for the company to strengthen its position in the market despite its success. According to Labios, “…this is a lesson on not resting on your laurels, even if you are a Laurel.” (Antoinette Sia)