Ben Chan

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Ben Chan is a Chinese-Filipino entrepreneur. He is the founder of Bench, the Philippines's largest clothing chain, under the trademark Suyen Corporation.

With his world-class fashion style and work ethic, Chan has expanded the Philippine clothing chain into international markets including China, the land of his forefathers. He is the brother of Liwayway Marketing Corporation founder Carlos Chan.

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Early life

Ben comes from a family of serial entrepreneurs. He is the son of Chan Lib, a Chinese immigrant. Together with his wife See Ying, Chan Lib established Liwayway Marketing Company, which soon became the country's leading starch supplier with its flagship product, Liwayway Gawgaw (laundry starch). The company primarily specialized in repacking flour and coffee products. In 1966, the business was converted into a corporation, as it expanded into the distribution of pomade, candles, candies, and sauces. By 1974, under the second generation management headed by Ben Chan's brother Manuel Chan, LMC diversified into the manufacture of snack foods such as “Oishi Prawn Crackers” and “Kirei Yummy Flakes.” Ben's brother Carlos Chan founded Liwayway (China) Company, Limited which has become a salty snack powerhouse in mainland China.

Education

Ben went to school in Manila, but moved to San Francisco for an interior design course. It was there where he immersed himself in design and art. Upon his return from the US, he established Dimensione, a modern furniture store, and Finale, an art gallery. In 1987 he started a small t-shirt shop in Manila's SM department store. His t-shirts were known for its affordable prices and distinctive style. It would eventually become the beginnings of Bench, the fashion clothing line, under the family owned Suyen Corporation.

Career

Chan's first job was working as a guard to the ticket box office of a drive-in movie house in San Francisco. He stayed there for four years and realized the value of life and money. He decided to move back to Manila after considering his mother’s advice in making a fortune back home. Chan learned the ropes of business through his brother Carlos .

He first started designing accessories for Chan C Brothers before he moved to designing furniture. Soon, Chan's first business venture, Dimensione, was born. Not long after, his sister, Nenita Lim, prodded him to venture into apparel. His sister first opened a children’s boutique named Suyen at the designer’s display area in Harrison Plaza. Becoming quite a success, Lim got the opportunity to tie up with SM Group and soon opened a concession at SM Makati's department store. This gave him the idea to design a line of men's t-shirts and jeans, which eventually became Bench in 1987.

Chan’s borrowed motto from Jonathan Swift, “Vision is the art of seeing the invisible,” helped him perfect his craft. He chose to market t-shirts to be because he wanted the basic white undergarment to become a fashionable outerwear.

The first Bench store was opened in a corner of an SM Department Store. In 1988, the first boutique was opened in Park Square. Chan hired actor Richard Gomez to be Bench's first endorser. This captured the attention of the masses as Bench gained consumers metrowide. In 1989, Bench began to be sold nationwide. By 1990, Chan added a Bench cosmetic line.

In 1994, Bench's first franchise store abroad Saudi Arabia was opened in Saudi Arabia. An outlet in Shanghai, China was also opened in the same year. A third franchise was opened in Kuwait.

Aside from Bench, Chan's furniture store Dimensione was incorporated under Forte Showroom Corporation in 1996. Chan also owned a personal exchange store, PCX, whose first branch opened doors in 1997. Suyen Corporation opened another clothing brand, Human, in 1999. In the same year, Bench added snacks to their widening range of products. Bench Bytes products included marshmallows, candies, and popcorn.

Bench expansion

In 2001, as the corporation expanded, Bench opened Bench FIX Salon, a chain of beauty salons for men and women. Chan's B/ Connected Internet Café was opened, offering the latest state-of-the-art computer technology. The first Bench Body boutique opened its first branch in 2002. Suyen Corporation brought in a new clothing line, Celio, a French menswear brand.

In 2004, the company acquired Kashieca, a famous fashion chain. Bench stores continued to grow, with two stores opened in UAE: one in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi. They also opened two other franchisees in China, one in Hangzhou and one in Xian also Superbench, the largest Bench boutique in history was finally opened in Market! Market!

In 2007, Bench marked its 20th year in the fashion world. Chan’s vision was for Bench to compete globally and proudly state that it’s a Filipino brand. Bench is now one of the most recognizable brands in the market. He also envisioned to bring in foreign products such as Aldo, Charles & Keith, Celio, La Senza, The Face Shop, Chaps, Pedro, Fox, and Lyn into the Philippine market.

Celebrity endorsers

Chan is a legend in marketing strategies such that he is one of the first Filipino entrepreneurs to value the concept of celebrity endorsers and image models. In 1988, Ben hired a young new actor—Richard Gomez—as its first image model. As Gomez shot to fame, so did the brand Bench.

Other endorsers included Lucy Torres (who would later be Gomez's wife), models Marc Nelson and Borgy Manotoc, and actors Diether Ocampo and Richard Gutierrez.

Besides beautiful young image models, Ben Chan also pioneered the use of more eclectic endorsers, such as artist Ben Cab, socialite Marixi Prieto, and congressman TeddyBoy Locsin.

Chinese supermodel Lu Yan, the runner-up in Cosmopolitan World’s International Supermodel Competition held in Paris was selected by Chan to be the image model of Bench in China. In 2003, Asian superstar Jerry Yan became Bench's image model in Asia. Actor-singer Peter Ho was also chosen to endorse the apparel brand in 2005, and in the following year, actress-model Qu Ying was chosen to be the chain's female endorser in China.

Ben Chan's forays into both print and TV advertising created waves. One of his first TV commercials, "A Day in a Sculler's Life" created in 1991 by Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre featured no voice over nor copy. It depicted an image model rowing stylistically to the sound of Chopin's "Claire de Lune." The ad's daring concept was rewarded with a Best in Cinematorgraphy Award at the Philippine Advertising Congress.

Awards and recognitions

  • One of the most prominent people in the country, Philippine Tatler’s list of Who’s Who of the Philippines
  • Agora Award for Export Marketing, awarded to Bench

References


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