U-Bix at 40: A success story that’s hard to copy
MANILA, Philippines – 1974 was a time of fresh starts. The Philippine economy had grown by a record 9% the previous year. Export revenues were steadily increasing behind strong commodity prices. Reflecting the optimism of the times, the country threw a grand “coming out” party for the world with its hosting of the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant. This was the year that two friends and fellow lawyers – Edilberto Bravo and Enrique Belo – decided to expand the business of Bookhaven, their office supply and stationery company.
Bert Bravo and Ike Belo decided to extend their reach in an area related to their office supply business: copiers, which were only beginning to appear in offices at the time, replacing the ubiquitous carbon copies. They named their new venture U-Bix Corporation. And thus was born the Philippines’ pioneer and leader in providing one-stop solutions for the needs of their customers in the office and production printing industry.
The founders had more in mind than just a profitable venture. As Bert Bravo put it, “U-Bix is more than just a business. It’s about a dream to build an enterprise that would not only be financially successful, but one that would endure.” As U-Bix celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2014, the founders’ dreams have been realized. Their company has endured, succeeded, and continues to thrive.
An Enduring Business Partnership
Superior quality products are a critical cornerstone of U-Bix’s success. The company’s outstanding results over the past four decades reflect the customer-preferred quality of the products it distributes. Konica Minolta Corporation of Japan has been U-Bix’s key business partner for the past 40 years. In a recent visit, Jun Haraguchi, Senior Executive Officer of Konica Minolta Japan noted that “We have already achieved so much, and look forward to continuing to work with U-Bix in tapping the tremendous growth opportunities in the country.”
As the exclusive distributor of Konica Minolta in the Philippines, U-Bix gained an invaluable competitive edge from the very start. In 1974, it launched the first plain paper copier in the country. This product was a game-changer for the market, and for U-Bix.
Over the years, Konica Minolta has continued to provide a stream of innovative, high-quality products and solutions preferred by U-Bix customers. Reflecting on the partnership of both companies, Bravo commented that “Our shared values and commitment to product and service excellence make for an ideal fit that best meet our customers’ needs for the past 40 years until today and beyond.”
Superior Customer Service at the Core
Almost every conversation with Bert Bravo will quickly bring out his passion for customer service. He says that “The only reason for a company to exist and thrive is its ability to provide its customers with good and efficient service.” From inception, service has been the company’s lifeblood. Bravo’s “service is our business” philosophy has been brought to life in the many innovations that have made U-Bix the leader in setting industry standards for quality customer service.
When a customer buys or rents machines from the company, U-Bix guarantees lifetime free service. 35 years ago, it first made the promise that once a customer calls for servicing, a service engineer arrives in less than 2 hours. That promise still stands today. U-Bix can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To ensure quality service, U-Bix engineers are in constant touch with customers, and are intensively trained to address any issues. The company has also established Digital Hubs in key locations to better respond to customers’ needs with product advice and demonstrations, technical information, and help on any area.
Early on, U-Bix made its mark with its superior products backed by superior service. Its customers appreciated this, and rewarded the young company with superior results. By 1979, just 5 years after its start, U-Bix had become the market leader in its industry, accounting for 4 out of every 10 copiers sold. U-Bix has continued to earn its customers’ trust over the years and maintains this leadership through today.
U-Bix was the creation of two visionaries who complemented themselves in so many ways that produced unbeatable synergy. Ike Belo has since passed away, and Bert Bravo continues to run the company with an entrepreneur’s eye to teaming with strong business partners. The partners’ strengths, combined with U-Bix’s market expertise and customer focus have propelled U-Bix’s 40 years of uninterrupted growth.
The company realized that it was critical to build strong partnerships with companies that shared its commitment to product and service excellence. Over the years, U-Bix has forged business agreements with global best-in-class companies in addition to Konica Minolta. Since 1993, it has distributed and installed the cutting-edge office seating, desks and workstations of Okamura Corporation of Japan, a world leader in office furniture. Since 1999, U-Bix’s product portfolio has included Riso Kagaku Corporation’s digital duplicator (known as the Risograph). This high speed digital printing system optimizes print jobs with faster speeds and at a lower cost. It was a market-changing innovation that effectively obsoleted the unwieldy mimeograph machines of old.
As U-Bix expanded the scope of its business, the service industry was clearly a great opportunity to leverage its unique service experience and expertise. In 1996, Facilities Managers, Inc. (FMI) was established with a licensing agreement between U-Bix and the ServiceMaster Company, a US-based world-leading service firm. FMI’s service offerings were further boosted by its partnership with Aramark Corporation of the US. Today, FMI delivers professional facilities management services for a wide range of clients, including pest control and housekeeping services of its affiliates Terminix and Merry Maids.
Bravo gives full credit to his business partners for the company’s success: “U-Bix growth was made possible because of the sincere and untiring support of our partners. We could not have done what we did without them.” Few and well-chosen, these partnerships have stood the test of time, and fuel great expectations for the next forty years and beyond.
Opportunities in the Digital Age
After establishing itself as a leading provider of copiers and printers, U-Bix saw attractive opportunities in other document-related niches. Bert Bravo and his leadership team saw digital document management as a major growth opportunity.
In 2007, U-Bix acquired the Kodak Imaging Center operation of Kodak Philippines. Now rebranded as the U-Bix Imaging Center (UIC), the new division focused on end-to-end conversion, digitization and document management services. A key element of UIC’s offering is DOCUVU, a robust document management software system designed to make search and retrieval easy for its users.
Six years on, UIC has become a leader in providing document management solutions for business and government. UIC has earned the business of a wide range of customer organizations – local government units; legislative, executive and judicial departments; private sector companies, particularly in the banking and insurance industry. UIC’s clients gain access to world-class expertise, and achieve improved efficiencies and higher productivity. U-Bix expects that UIC will be a key driver of its progress into the future.
Like 1974, the year 2014 sees U-Bix at the cusp of unbounded growth opportunities. Today’s digital and highly-networked environment challenges businesses to rapidly evolve and innovate in order to sustain success. And U-Bix is uniquely positioned to do so. It has long gone beyond its core business of copiers, and expanded into multi-function printers, production printing equipment, office furniture and services. There’s more to look forward to, with step-changes in color printing technology, 3D printing, network connectivity, specialized equipment for photo-printing, records management and eco-friendly technologies and materials.
As the Philippines continues to improve its global competitiveness, further opportunities are arising. Digital imaging of records is a national priority, and U-Bix is a leader in this area. Business partners constantly reassess their supply and logistics bases, and the country is looking increasingly promising. Similarly, outsourcing of business processes offers unique possibilities. There is also major potential to leverage U-Bix’s service expertise beyond the Philippines through training programs and manpower deployment. The company’s opportunity list is quickly lengthening.
The Best is Yet to Come
2014 is U-Bix’s Ruby Anniversary of its February 11, 1974 founding. On this milestone year, U-Bix celebrates and is thankful for its many blessings – the patronage of its customers, the trust of its partners, the dedication of its people, and the support of the communities in which it operates. After four decades, U-Bix looks to the future, confident that the best is yet to come.
On his company’s 40th year, Bert Bravo will be celebrating his 77th birthday. His optimism about U-Bix’s prospects and his passion for the business has remained undimmed. Bravo’s favorite line comes from an 1855 poem by Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?” One should try for as much as one can achieve, not just what one can easily get.
Sage advice indeed, from an entrepreneur and leader who long ago aimed for the stars, came a long way over the years, and is still working to get there. (advt)