By Claire Agbayani
Contributor, Philippine Daily Inquirer
On a Friday morning, it is business as usual for Cecile Cuna. From her desk, she spots a couple entering and inquiring at the reception area. Immediately, she stands up to introduce herself. It turns out that the couple has three children and would like to enroll them in a reading comprehension class.
After giving them a quick tour of the center and providing them all their enrollment options, Cecile sits down with a smile. She has sealed the deal.
As franchise owner of Ahead Tutorial and Review Center in Alabang, Cecile makes it a point to personally deal with clients.
“It is our way of giving them special and quality service,” she explains. “It is not enough that after they enroll in a program, you will just forget about them. What I do is I monitor their progress then I e-mail or text the parents to tell them about our observations. For instance, when I found out that the deadline for filing of the UPCAT forms was already nearing, I texted all the parents to inform them about it. They were thankful. They appreciated the way we treat the students,” Cecile says.
Cecile is no stranger to business. She had a lot of experience in different kinds of entrepreneurial ventures long before she opened the tutorial and review center.
A graduate of St. Scholastica’s College with a degree in BS Commerce major in Business Management, Cecile began her career as a remittance clerk for Allied Bank. After working there for several years, she decided to leave in 1988.
Back to Business
She and Ricardo Cuna, who was still her boyfriend at that time, opened a business manufacturing wedding and baptismal souvenirs such as all sorts of wooden boxes and mini stuffed toys. When they finally got married in 1989, Cecile decided to become a full-time housewife and mother to their two sons, Patrick and Simon.
When her sons were already going to school, Cecile went back to doing business. She and her co-parents from La Salle Zobel organized themselves to provide educational trips for students.
For two years, they brought these children to leisure farms and museums until the group decided to stop when they realized that the business entailed a lot of risks both for them and for the students. Eventually, Cecile decided she would just concentrate on arts and crafts. Together with a business partner, she opened a paper clay art stall at the Alabang Town Center.
Cecile reveals that it was actually her husband’s idea to apply for a franchise of Ahead. Being the president of Association of Filipino Franchisers Inc. (AFFI), Richie knew that one of its members, Ahead, was a good business venture. He even expressed interest in the franchise during one of AFFI’s general meetings and Christmas party.
After being invited to a franchise orientation by Ahead’s President Rossana L. Llenado, Richie suggested to Cecile to try it out since she had always been interested in getting into a business that is school-related and involves young people.
“I was reluctant at first,” Cecile confesses. “It was a big investment and I was used to working with partners. If we decided to push through, I had no idea how I’d manage it alone,” she said.
Aside from her reluctance, Cecile was met with other challenges. It turned out that she was not the only one applying for a franchise suitability test.
“I almost gave up. I didn’t know I had to take a suitability test. I though that after paying the franchise fee, that was it!” she says.
It was a good thing that she and her husband received some counsel from Butch Bartolome, a well-known franchise guru. He convinced them to continue with this venture and arranged for a meeting between Richie and Llenado.
The Ahead Management was also very supportive during Cecile’s difficult times. During her intensive training, she was assisted by an experienced team that included Llenado, Ed Corbe, the franchise director of Ahead, and other center directors.
When she was finally ready to open the center, Cecile was given two big balikbayan boxes full of review materials exclusively produced by Ahead for their centers. When she conducted her very first parents’ orientation at Woodrose, Cecile received a lot of encouragement from Llenado, who was by her side during the occasion.
“I started the business during the peak season, in April,” Cecile recalls. “During the first days, I had sleepless nights. I was alone here. I only had my children to help me entertain walk-in clients, but somehow I survived without a landline and a computer,” she adds.
Cecile recounts how a lot of parents were very eager to enroll their children to the center as soon as they heard that there was an Ahead opening in the area.
Aside from the two full-time tutors and one branch coordinator, Cecile got a lot of support from her family. Though he is very busy running Milkin Corp., the manufacturer of Fiorgelato Ice Cream, Richie gives her some advice on running the business especially when it comes to finances.
During the summer break, their children, Patrick, 15, and Simon, 11, assisted her at the center. Patrick was her runner: he did the errands at the grocery and bought supplies. Simon manned the computer. The two even put up a snack bar inside the center selling chips and bottled drinks to the reviewees.
Owing to the good reputation of the company, Cecile didn’t have trouble getting clients. Students from Alabang and other neighboring cities and towns such as Parañaque, Cavite, Bicutan, Laguna and Batangas no longer had to travel a long distance to Quezon City to attend a good tutorial and review class.
Though the results of the review classes are yet to be seen as the center’s reviewees are only about to take their first entrance exams this August, Cecile is very much satisfied and happy with the way things are going. After three months of operation, Cecile has already developed close ties with the students of the center – not to mention their parents.
There is an Ahead Alabang Friendster and Multiply account to keep in touch with the students. Some often come back to visit and say that they miss going to their review classes.
“We have become buddies. We see each other at the mall and they greet me, “Hi Tita!” she says. “ I feel very fulfilled. I deal with a lot of people and I see that they leave the center smiling and satisfied. This business has given me a chance to prove my worth.”