When they run low on daily home essentials, the majority of shoppers in Metro Manila and the country’s other major cities visit their favorite supermarkets. The most well-known brands, including SM, Robinsons, Puregold, Rustan’s (now owned by Robinsons), and MetroMart, compete for the highly lucrative retail market, which was estimated to be worth approximately P6.36 trillion in 2016 and is anticipated to increase to P9.43 trillion by 2021, according to international studies.
But there is one well-known chain of stores that, for those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, has all but vanished from the urban environment and cultural zeitgeist. In the past, Uniwide Sales and Uniwide Warehouse Club locations could be found all throughout the city. Smaller businesses like local sari-sari shops favored them for their low prices. SM, owned by the Sy family, is currently the largest retailer in the nation and one of the biggest on the continent. At one point, Uniwide matched SM’s dominance and reach.
What became of Uniwide?
Background of Uniwide
We need to look back and examine Uniwide‘s early years in order to comprehend its amazing growth and stunning decline. The Gow family established the business in 1975 as Uniwide Sales Textile Bargain House Center on Rizal Avenue in Manila’s Avenida district. The business supplied other businesses in places like Divisoria by selling goods like fabrics and textiles at deeply discounted prices.
Because it catered to low-income consumers or the so-called “masa” market, the original firm was successful. The business eventually branched out into clothing and accessories, and by the 1980s, it had developed into a chain of supermarkets and department stores. It had developed sufficiently to compete with comparable-sized retail chains at the time, including Ever Gotesco, Plaza Fair, Isetann, and COD Department Store, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
All indications are that Uniwide did well financially during the remainder of the 1980s. It created the Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club, which catered to wholesalers, in 1988, which further lowered the prices of its goods. At their largest, Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club locations occupied at least one hectare of space and featured about 60 check-out stations. At the time, the company had up to 11 outlets spread out not just in Metro Manila but also in nearby provinces like Laguna, Cavite, and Tarlac, employing up to 3,560 people.
According to a report in BusinessMirror, “the warehouse club was so well-liked that in 1988, Uniwide had to start measures to somehow limit traffic in some of its locations during its annual promotional season.” In 1991, when it conducted a sale that lasted until 4 a.m. and caused significant traffic backups in Metro Manila, it was even chastised in the media.
Data indicated that Uniwide Sales had average annual sales of between P14 billion and P20 billion by the early 1990s, which would have made it the leading retail company in the nation at the time. The business was also incredibly liquid, with almost all of its dealings with suppliers taking place in cash. Jimmy Gow, the founder of Uniwide Group, made the decision to invest in numerous properties around the same time since the company was able to get favorable terms because it was willing to pay cash, according to the BusinessMirror story. Prime properties in Cubao, Quezon City, Las Pias, and the expansive site in the reclamation area along Roxas Boulevard in Paranaque City, where the business erected its largest project thus far—Uniwide Coastal Mall—in 1990, was among them.
Crash and IPO
The same article which Gow has interviewed claims that the concept to list the company on the stock exchange originally surfaced in 1992. The creator claimed that a man by the name of Jaime Cabangis, who worked for the prominent accounting company SGV, persuaded him to do so. Later, Cabangis departed SGV to become the CFO of the Uniwide Group, supporting the business during the challenging IPO process.
Incorporated in 1994, Uniwide Holdings Inc. (UHI) underwent its first public offering (IPO) in 1996, collecting a total of P4.3 billion in new capital. The company appeared to have promising futures.
But in 1997, the Asian financial crisis materialized. The Uniwide Group was not spared, like many other large businesses. UHI’s assets, which totaled P30 billion, were purportedly destroyed just one year after its successful IPO, and the stock’s value dropped from a high of P7 to just P1. According to the rehabilitation report created by Buenaventura Filamor Echauz, total revenues dropped to P2.7 billion by 1999 and the company experienced a net loss of P383 million, mostly because of low sales volume and decreased rent and franchise fees (BFE).
Under the leadership of then-Chairman Perfecto Yasay Jr., the Securities and Exchange Commission put the business into receivership and assigned officers, including Monico Jacob, to help the business get back on track financially.
Gow, however, asserted that the SEC did not make such an effort at the time. Instead, he questioned why a business that had just recently raised over P4 billion through its IPO had been put under receivership so swiftly.
Regardless, the Uniwide Group case went on for years before a Paranaque court issued a directive in 2017 to liquidate the company’s assets and deem it insolvent. Seven years after the trading of its shares was halted in 2010, the Philippine Stock Exchange ordered that UHI be formally delisted from the list of publicly traded corporations in October of the same year.
It didn’t help the business that Jacinto Ng, whose Manila Bay Development Corporation controlled 40 hectares of the Paranaque reclamation area, forced it to leave its Uniwide Coastal Mall. Ng has reportedly stated that he and Gow “were never business partners,” despite Gow’s claims that Ng had “enticed” him to create Uniwide Coastal Mall. Additionally, that matter has dragged on for years.
It would be very difficult for Gow to mount a return and recover the losses he and his company have incurred over the years given the extensive web of court disputes and legal actions in which the Uniwide Group has been and is presently involved. Gow, however, stated in the 2018 BusinessMirror interview that getting his land and assets back and being reimbursed for his losses came second to achieving justice for what had occurred to him and the Uniwide Group.
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