Philippine tycoon Henry Sy’s grandson Howard aims to carve out his own niche with self-storage biz

Howard Sy (right) with StorageMart Yakal's first customers. Image sourced from Sy's social media account.

Howard Sy, the grandson of Chinese-Filipino retail magnate Henry Sy Sr, is on a mission to establish his own business empire and he is starting with self-storage.

Last year, the millennial businessman launched StorageMart, a self-storage service for individuals, households, and businesses. In an interaction with DEALSTREETASIA, Howard said he is looking to expand to all the major cities in Metro Manila.

“So far, we have two facilities in Makati. One in Yakal Street and the other in Eran Street, which is closer to [Bonifacio Global City]. We recently just opened StorageMart Eran, which now also includes climate controlled units for customers who need to store sensitive items,” he said.

The 28-year-old entrepreneur is the third of the four children of Hans Sy, the second son of Henry Sy Sr, who is the richest man in the Philippines, according to Forbes. Sy, turning 93 in December, is chairman emeritus of diversified conglomerate SM Investments Corp. The tycoon began his mall empire from his first ‘Shoemart Store’ in Carriedo, Manila in 1958.

It may be too early to predict that Howard could create a new business empire such as his grandfather’s SM Group of Companies, but the millennial businessman is bent on taking the same path — establishing a business through one’s own resources or bootstrapping.

Edited Excerpts:

What made you decide to start your own business?

Ever since I was young, I wanted to start my own business. One way or another, I was going to make it happen. I initially worked as an analyst for Macquarie Funds Group for three and a half years. We had a Philippine infrastructure fund investing in the local infrastructure. This provided me with the right foundation and work ethics, and a good amount of seed capital for my first business. One afternoon, I was watching the show “Storage Wars” on TV with my family and it hit me: “Is there a market for self-storage in the Philippines?” After a bit of research, I saw that there was, and that’s when the idea of StorageMart was born. After two years and a couple of failed property negotiations, I finalized my first property and opened StorageMart Yakal.

How do you see self-storage business as a sector? What is your vision for StorageMart?

The self-storage industry in the Philippines is currently in its infancy stage as there are only a few players in the industry so far. The primary goal of the sector is industry awareness. Filipinos need to be made aware that we now have the self-storage service in the country, and this is different from their stereotype thinking of what an extra storage space is. Currently, many people view the storage service as just a worn down dingy extra space you throw your extra stuff in at dirt cheap prices. This is where StorageMart comes in and educates the market that there is such a thing as quality convenient self-storage spaces at affordable rates.

I plan on making StorageMart the benchmark of quality self-storage in the Philippines. I want to offer international quality self-storage service locally, while keeping it at affordable rates. Our self-storage facility locations will focus on convenience for our customers as they will be situated in extremely accessible locations.

Although you belong to the millennial generation, you seem to be more traditional when it comes to business. Are there other brick-and-mortar businesses you want to explore and why?

In terms of business, I am more traditional since I grew up under the tutelage of my family. They’re all very traditional, so I turned out somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in online businesses.

Currently, there’s no other brick-and-mortar business I’m looking into, but there are definitely some online businesses I would love to explore. The biggest draw of an online business for me is the fact that the initial capex for one is just so much lower than a brick-and-mortar business. Expansion is not hindered by the lack of capital. Its potential to grow also won’t be hindered by a physical location. The potential is enormous, but so is the chance of failure.

Are you also an investor? Are you interested in investing in online platform businesses?

I’m not much of an investor. All of my savings and earnings are in StorageMart, so I don’t really have much capital for anything else. I am definitely interested in making an online platform business. Who wouldn’t be? It really just boils down to finding the right idea and executing it.

Have you considered launching an IPO someday for StorageMart?

I would consider launching an IPO for StorageMart. I’ve heard that in the US, self-storage REITs are one of the top performers throughout the years, so I would hope StorageMart could do the same.

As a young businessman, are there other knowledge and skills you’re interested to learn and why?

I would love to learn more with regards to the technical skills in running an online business. I, for one, am not too comfortable getting into an online business, where I would have to be reliant on someone with an IT background just because I literally have no knowledge about it. If I ever get into that, I’d definitely look into learning even some basic knowledge of the field.

Belonging to a family of the most successful business people in the Philippines, what are the important lessons in life and business that you learned from them?

Be extremely hands-on. Know every part of your business. There is no excuse to not understand or be on top of any part of your business when it is just starting up. How else will you compete with the bigger and more established companies? Be patient. Don’t expect to get rich quickly. Put in the hard work, so that when the opportunity comes, you will be ready. Be thrifty. Once you realize how hard and slow it is to earn money, you’ll naturally become thrifty.

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