How the ‘Lord of Scents’ built an empire

Photograph by Teddy Pelaez for the Daily Tribune
Joel Cruz

The founder of Aficionado is celebrating his birthday tomorrow, 5 February, and if his original plans had pushed through, he would be in Baguio, in his contemporary white log cabin inside Camp John Hay.

Joel Cruz has every reason to be happy on his birth anniversary. The foremost reason is he has a large brood that brings him so much joy. Many of you have read about his wonderful family of good-lookers, and you and I could only give our big nod to Joel who seems to have found the best formula for happiness, which is to be around one’s children.

Of course, for someone who is, from day to day, busy adding more millions to his treasure chest, finding time for one’s children could be a challenge. But that cannot be said of Joel who, by his personal choice, acts both as a mother and father to his good-looking light complexioned and expressive children and makes sure to be with them often. No wonder he works in a suite of offices that occupies a corner of his big house in Sampaloc.

I recently had a chance to observe Joel up close and personal and I saw how he could be sweet with his children without shedding off his other side, which is the no-nonsense father who gently teaches his children discipline, respect, and good manners.

Other than seeing him as a father, I listened to him expound on various aspects of his life, each significant in putting together the personality that his friends and family would know as warm, charming, articulate, and sincere.

As it would mean devoting several pages to Joel’s many endeavors, let me, for today, share his story on how he built his empire as the “Lord of Scents” whose domain extends beyond our country’s boundaries.

Below are excerpts from our interview:

Daily Tribune (DT): When did Aficionado start?

Joel Cruz (JC): After I had a brief sojourn in the United States where I took a break after I lost my apparel manufacturing company due to the Asian Crisis of 1997. It was in 1999 when I established Aficionado.

DT: How did you become interested in the manufacturing of scents?

JC: Well, a good friend of my father, who used to work in Henkel Philippines, invited me to his office. He showed me how perfume is being concocted. He explained that the scents made in Paris are expensive because their bottles alone cost a lot. Besides, their labor cost is expensive. Here it can be done at a reasonable cost. And so you could sell them at a cheap price.

Photograph courtesy of FB/Joel Cruz
Joel Cruz and his children.

DT: How did you come up with your own scents?

JC: We invested in oil that Henkel sold. It was quite expensive. From this basic essence, we created various scents. We were able to produce our versions of Polo Sport, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Banana Republic, and Cool Water, among others.

DT: Where was your first pop-up store?

JC: At Ever Gotesco Grand Central right in the vicinity of Monumento. So, when people took the metro rail or alighted, they passed through us and would stop to inquire or buy. My niece and my sister-in-law were my first two sales staff. We operated from a cart that we rented for P1,000 a day or P30,000 a month.

DT: So, having just returned from abroad, you were back to base one.

JC: I worked in my father’s trucking company where I was the manager. After my work, I would go to Ever Gotesco. I had a tiny stool from which I stood so I could see those who came to buy. As many as 30 people bought perfume during rush hour.

DT: What was your selling point?

JC: I would tell them, ‘Feel free to use our tester, try it You are not obliged to buy anything. Our perfume lasts for eight hours.’ And they found out I was telling the truth.

DT: Why do they last that long?

JC: They are of excellent quality.  They are fine fragrances.

DT: Where did you first hold office?

JC: Right in our backyard. We had humble beginnings. I shared it with my vice president, Remar, my friend.

DT: What happened after you did well from your first cart?

JC: From one store, it became two. Until we added more stores one at a time — Isetann Recto, Tutuban, Commonwealth, and then we expanded far and wide.  It reached that point when I just knew and felt Visayas and Mindanao were ready for Aficionado. We first opened in Cebu and Davao.

DT: Tell me about your branching out to Cebu.

JC: Cebu. Yeah, I remember we went to the pier and loaded our kiosk. Since our staff spoke Tagalog, they had to find ways to communicate with Cebuanos who didn’t speak Tagalog. We eventually hired locals.

DT: How did you choose your sales force?

JC: I chose young ones, from 18 to their early 20s. I picked out attractive ones and who spoke well. They also had to be pleasant and well-mannered. At the same time, disciplined and persistent. Somehow there were a lot of them and they were eager to earn their own money. We developed their skills and improved their attitudes further. I also gave them a crash course on perfumery.

DT: How did you train your initial staff?

JC: I would ask them to come to the house where I gave them drills on selling and how they would deal with all kinds of customers and reply to their questions.

DT: You were obviously hands-on from the start.

JC: Very much. To this day,  still hands-on.

Photograph courtesy of FB/Aficionado
Aficionado plant.

DT: What was your strategy to achieve your big growth?

JC: Aficionado’s success may be attributed to our franchising. This came about five years after we started. This was in 2005 when I saw that our stores had achieved stability. It was when I decided we were ready to franchise. Now we have more than 350 franchises nationwide, and we’re distributing to other countries also.

DT: Which countries?

JC: New Zealand, USA, mostly the Middle East where there are a lot of OFWs. Many are owned by Filipinas who have married well or who have taken the entrepreneurial path. They also saw the great demand from their fellow Filipinos and workers of other nationalities.

DT: Whom do you want to thank?

JC: God, first of all, who gave me a second chance. My parents, from whom early on in my life I learned important values like industry, persistence, self-discipline, and respect for others. My staff through the years who have given their all through good times and challenging times like the recent pandemic. We were all in this and we survived the pandemic because we were united. Walang iwanan. And, of course, I get so much joy and fulfillment from my children. They are my number one inspiration.

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