Flash forward to the present. Lim is now the president and CEO of Pacific Concord Properties, Inc. His engineering skills still come in handy, especially when he has to source materials and create designs that will make the structures he builds less costly to construct, but still carry that touch of glamour and luxury associated with five-star hotels. Its part of a strategy that he hopes would attract customers who are budget-conscious and yet drawn to a high-end lifestyle. Case in point: Pacific Concord’s flagship and probably the first of many, the Lancaster Hotel in Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City, a service apartment/condotel that can be classified in the three-star category, but is probably the only building of its kind that has a 24x7 generator that offers its clients the comfort of uninterrupted power.
Lim still has that eye and the subtle perfect pitch that can persuade one to purchase a product, although he shrugs off the notion that what he did and does is selling. When he started selling lots as a student in St. Jude Catholic School, he “never saw it as making a sale,” he recalls. “I’d just make an offer. If they like it, then that’s fine. I’d tell the parents to buy the lots for their kids as a future gift when the right time comes, like a marriage.”
Lim dresses casually, speaks straight to the point, and strikes one as a man of few words. Still, as a teenage salesman, he had an impressive track record of closing eight sales out of 10 pitches—at a time when vacant lots were considered ambiguous investments reserved only for the affluent. That same candor and a keen acumen on how to provide added benefits for their purchase hold appeal for his current customers that are increasing in number, thanks to the global crisis.
He describes the current trend: “The middle market is growing. Traveling is no longer a luxury but has become a necessity for Filipinos since the 1990s. Overseas Filipinos come home yearly and need a place to check in. Another big chunk of the market are the Chinese who want to explore regions outside the Mainland. The high-end market has also become conscious of their spending and is now going into the more affordable accommodations. Even Caucasians who represent their home offices in the developed countries operate on a budget.”
Lancaster’s other clients are the daily transients from their corporate accounts, which come mostly from the call centers, pharmaceuticals, and banks. An overnight stay starts at a minimum of P2,900; those more inclined to own their own service apartments can avail of a P3 million package that will take 12 years to pay.
Aside from his prized 24x7 generator (“We were filled to capacity during Ondoy and had to turn down guests,” Lim says), Lancaster’s other distinction from its counterparts is its flexibility when it comes to certain arrangements. Long-staying, loyal guests, for example, can waive their daily breakfast in return for room discounts.
What Lim refuses to skimp on is quality. He says that the kinds of beds and towels in Lancaster Hotel are identical to those found in the five-star hotels. “Importante ang pahingahan sa mga bisita,” he stresses. In building Lancaster, he also made sure that the standards in one room would apply to another, even if it means spending a little more. He reveals some of the practices in the industry that he refused to imitate: “Some developers cut corners to save costs for the owners. They would lend out the beds and refrigerators from old units to the new ones. I swore to myself that the rooms I’d make would be all new and have the same quality.”
He had made that promise to himself more than a decade ago as a young manager in a 40-unit service apartment. Condotels which owners bought and rented out were unheard of. But Lim saw informal practices of it exercised by apartment unit owners who would ask their building administrators to rent out their units in their absence—earning profits and commissions for both. Lim says that at that point, he thought of formalizing and improving on the concept in a bona fide structure that would benefit all the owners and the investors. He had his chance when his proposed idea to one property development company materialized as the Citadel in Makati Avenue, said to be one of the Philippines’
Lim’s next years would be spent marketing, promoting and managing similar units, which by the early 1990s had begun to take off. But he wanted to just do more than create concepts and sell—he wanted to develop properties himself. A few years as an immigrant in Canada right after college had already made it clear to him that his path lay in entrepreneurship, and not employment. “I think out of the box,” he says simply, “and being an employee limits your income.”
The big break came in 2000, ironically when the real estate and property developments were taking a beating because of the Asian economic flu. Construction had stopped and all investments and activities had frozen, forcing the market into a depression. A Japanese friend approached Lim and asked him to look for opportunities in investment in the Philippines—
“I had to win, I couldn’t lose—that was what pushed me,” he says. Nine years ago, he looked like a 30-something yuppie who “nobody would trust with a 40-storey hotel,” he laughs at the memory now. Then there were the critics who asked him for credentials in putting up high-rises. Lim remembers retorting “But who ever starts with a track record? Unless you do it, you’ll never know and never have one.”
He also found strength in his own forecast that, “There was a market and it would bounce back—it was just a matter of time.”
Pacific’s first two years were spent negotiating with land owners who were more than willing to sell at lower cost because of the downturn. Construction on the Lancaster Hotel Manila began in 2003, finishing with a launch four years later.
The rebound of the property development sector in recent years had proven Lim’s assessment true, with an aggressive, more confident middle class saving up and working hard for the homes of their dreams. Another Lancaster Hotel stands in Lapu-Lapu City. Pacific also has preparations underway for the building of another tower with 400 rooms right beside the Manila service apartment.
Lim also concedes that the competition has intensified, but remains unaffected by it. He says, “If this just makes the market tighter, you simply have to give more to the customer, and he will come back. Like providing a room bigger than that of your competitor, but at the same price.”
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PLC International Marketing Networks, with its internet based Global Agency, are the lead marketing partners with Pacific Concord Properties Inc for the Lancaster Brand of Condotels in the Philippines
PLC International Marketing Networks
Pacific Concord Properties Inc., Head Office
Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City.
Metro Manila. Philippines
Phone: Manila  717 1958
Pacific Concord Properties Inc., Cebu Office
Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan. Cebu. Philippines
Phone: Cebu  340 0721