Through the years, siomai has emerged as one of the staple foods that many Filipinos enjoy. And that only means one thing for Hen Lin CEO Mariano Manas: Hen Lin is here to stay.
Started as a reseller of authentic Chinese siomai in Parañaque, Manas eventually realized that he can come up with a dish more delicious than the one he is selling. He seeked the help of a Hong Kong chef, and it led to the creation of Hen Lin siomai, a dish every Filipino knows and loves.
Today, Hen Lin is one of the most renowned franchises in the Philippines, with 200 stores nationwide as of this writing.
But here’s the question: How can his famed siomai, despite countless competitors, continue to hold a huge market share for decades? Here are the answers from the man himself.
Make it AFFORDABLE
His ultimate goal of bringing an authentic yet affordable siomai to the masses is why Hen Lin never loses its appeal.
“There are many fine dining Chinese restaurants that you can go to and the prices of their siomai are very expensive,” Manas said in his interview with Esquire. “The ordinary people can not afford this kind of siomai that they are serving.
“But my personal gratification was to be able to have ordinary people have a taste of real siomai and make it affordable. Where can you buy authentic siomai at 50-plus pesos compared to those siomai from five-star hotels where the price is around P180?”
“I imagine that if I make one peso per siopao at that time, I can make P30 if I sell 30 pieces. I can make P300 pesos up to P7,000. That’s the thing that motivates you. So I started selling to the supermarkets, to schools and then to SM where I kept opening new outlets.”
Quality Over Quantity
For Manas, saving on cost and sacrificing the quality of your product is a surefire way for customers not to purchase anything from you ever again.
“We try to keep the quality of our products,” he said. “We never use extenders. There are others who buy chicken bones where they turn it into extenders by crushing it. It helps lower the costs of the meat but we don’t do that.
“We use selected meat. We make our siomai authentic so that when you eat it, it is like you are eating from an authentic Chinese restaurant.
“For a while we wanted to compete head on but because our competitors offered their siomai at very low price and low quality too, we had to stop. We just concentrated on offering quality products at reasonable prices even though it is a little bit higher than the competition.”
Innovate, Innovate, Innovate
In the food industry, the saying “don’t fix what is not broken” remains true. But for Manas, the desire to always bring something new to the table should always be there. That can be introducing new products or variants for goods that are already selling well.
“A business is like water,” he said. “When it becomes stagnant, it becomes stale and filthy. It must flow continually, so it gathers no moss. A business that does not innovate becomes obsolete and will be left behind.
“This is why at Hen Lin, if and when necessary, we continue to change and improve our menu, designs and procedures. At 82 years old, I still get more involved in my business in many ways. I enjoy innovating new ways to improve our products. For example, we now use machines to produce layered hopia. It feels good when you innovate something new.”