Updated 16:50 PM PHT Wed, March 15, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In 2014, Filipino-Chinese stock market hobbyist Kevin Cheung was faced with an entrepreneurial stump: “I was very bored. I wanted to create something, but I don’t know what to create.”
Fresh from the stock market game with Alpha Investments, a website that provides free detailed analysis on publicly listed companies, 24-year-old Cheung was looking to try something new. Since he only considered his stint at the stock market as a hobby, he wanted to move on the next thing. He says, “I’m that type of person that does what he loves.”
In 2014, he had a conversation with his friend, Dexter Chiong, one that would launch his newest project. Over milk tea, Chiong told him, “Kevin maybe you want to enter into the sneakerhead market. I see [the shoe retail shops] and they are doing very well.”
Chiong was a shoe collector. He owned over a hundred pairs of shoes. It was natural for him to say such a thing, according to Cheung. This was another person’s hobby, and “binibigo lang niya ako sa hobby niya,” he thought. And at the time, he knew nothing about shoes. Nevertheless, he was willing to try it out.
“Let’s get another person and maybe we can launch this,” Cheung answered, and thought of their common friend, John Ng, who worked at HP and was very fashion forward. He could be perfect as a third partner.
The three Filipino-Chinese friends eventually came up with Limited, a humble yet upscale shoe shop located in Uptown Mall in Fort Bonifacio. They opened their first store in May 2016. In building the brand, Cheung’s idea was to focus on shoes. “A lot of lifestyle streetwear brands [have] shoes as well as clothing. But clothing has an inventory aspect to it. Most people will not buy a ₱2,000 shirt until it’s on sale. I was scared of inventory buildup. So why not just focus on shoes?”
As Limited’s collection of shoes was growing, Cheung, now its founder and managing director, was gradually learning more about sneakers. He admits, “I’m not a sneaker collector. I don’t like spending unnecessarily, so as much as possible, I keep my shoe collection to around five pairs.” However, his passion for business and budding interest for retail have kept his foot strong in building the brand, which is still technically a start-up, amid a saturated industry of sneakerhead feeders.
“We went into retailing just for the thrill of it,” says Cheung. “I look at it as an opportunity to try new things.”
He even has a favorite shoe now. “After being in the industry, mas na-appreciate ko [ang] Asics … It’s the mother company of Onitsuka Tiger. It’s not that popular in the Philippines, and most people don’t know this, but this came even before Nike,” Cheung explains. “The more I look at it, the more I like the design.”
For a fresh shoe retailer, Cheung has a good grasp of the general sneaker market. He even says, “Within the market, there are two categories: one is the official retailer, and there are the resellers. It’s a gray industry.” He goes on to explain the phenomenon of reselling, which he believes was caused by the big shoe brands’ hyping up of products to generate demand, and the advent of social media.
He keeps this in mind for the future, wherein he plans to make use of the power of digital marketing. “In the future, we plan to expand more online, because I believe that’s where the trend will go. If you go to the U.S., brick-and-mortar stores are pretty much dead. [There may seem like there’s a lot], but a bulk of their sales come from online. In the Philippines, most of the sales come from retail, but I believe the trend will eventually go online … I believe that online advertising now is very potent, given most Filipinos have free data, free Facebook. Marketing is the only way you can differentiate your store from others.”
Being a start-up comes with a lot of challenges. “As a startup, most of the time, plans don’t go your way,” Cheung explains. Our industry is very saturated. In the past two years, the number of streetwear brands pretty much [doubled]. It looks like you can just enter this industry freely. But the reality of it is that it’s very hard.”
Despite these challenges, Cheung gives room for fun and experimentation. Their spunky neon green motif, he says, symbolizes the brand’s dynamism. And the brand’s relative smallness means that Cheung and his team “have an opportunity to experiment with how we like [each store to be].” Though they don’t adhere to feng shui, Cheung believes in its practical aspects. A generally big space allows for a good flow of chi, or energy, he says.
For those who want to start their own shoe retail shop, he gives advice: “Don’t give up. In this industry, there are a lot of [giants]. In this battle of giants, you should not be afraid.” Cheung tops off his advice by rephrasing a famous shoe brand’s slogan, “Just go.”