Heavenly Desserts CEO Jeng Flores shares the recipe every entrepreneur needs when building a business
Baking requires a great amount of patience, dedication, and precision at every step. One mistake can ruin the entire process, and you would have to try all over again. Entrepreneur and Pastry Chef Jeng Flores knows this best. These are lessons she learned throughout her career journey.
Jeng initially wanted to pursue a career in the medical field on the advice of her parents, but the universe had other plans for her. She applied for the Physical Therapy course at UST but wasn’t accepted due to limited slots. The only programs with slots left were engineering, architecture, and fine arts.
Jeng didn’t like drawing, but she was good at math so she gravitated toward Civil Engineering, where she eventually met her future husband and business partner, and graduated Cum Laude. Even when her path didn’t go as planned, she knew this was God’s way of showing her that she was meant for something else.
Shaping and kneading her preferred career
After graduation, Jeng worked as a Property Manager for Ayala Property Management Corporation (APMC) but resigned after a year to help construct her parents’ dream house.
Despite the hazy beginnings of her professional life, the one thing Jeng was certain of was her intention to start a business, “My dad was always telling me, ‘You don’t work for someone. You have to put up your own business if you really want to be financially stable.’”
However, building and starting her own business would lead to many challenges and risks that Jeng wasn’t ready for.
Whisking the right business batter through multiple trials and errors
In 2003, she and her husband had their first foray into business by putting up a KODAK franchise, but it was ill-timed. “Pawala na pala ‘yong mga films. Papunta na ng digital eh. Nag-invest kami ng malaking pera only to close after two or three years, because humina na ‘yong paged-develop. Lahat mayroon ng mga digital cam,” Jeng says.
This was Jeng’s first hard lesson in business: knowing when to stop.
Despite the setback, Jeng remained determined. She and her husband started an events and photography business for weddings and corporate events, the Megapixels Digital Studio. The business has been running for 15 years and had to temporarily stop during the COVID-19 outbreak. “We don’t know how long the lockdowns will last. Two years, three years, five years? We better stop and just focus on the other businesses that we can do,” Jeng told her husband.
Drawing on their engineering backgrounds, the couple established a construction company, the Civil Club Construct and Consult Corporation (TC4) in 2007. They built bridges at North Luzon Expressway, but faced financial challenges due to clients' delayed payments, prompting them to halt the business, “Minsan ganoon talaga: tapos na yung project, pero hindi ka pa bayad.”
Embracing these setbacks as learning opportunities, Jeng and her husband launched a new construction company in 2017, Prime Tekton Design and Construct. To improve financial management, Jeng enrolled in a finance course at the Ateneo Graduate School.
Exploring businesses taught Jeng the benefits of loaning from a bank. She discovered the importance of establishing a strong credit standing and maintaining a positive relationship with her bank. “If you have a good standing with the bank, even when you don’t need the money, lalapit iyan sa’yo. Oofferan ka pa and you get lower interest rates.”
A good relationship with the bank may be a boon to a business, but unforeseen events can still threaten any enterprise.
In 2020, Prime Tekton Design and Construct temporarily closed for two months due to the pandemic. The business encountered challenges like manpower shortages, additional expenses due to required health protocols, slowed-down projects, and rising costs.
The experiences of multiple trials and errors served as lessons for Jeng to develop her skills and strategies to manage their businesses. She wore her setbacks like armor to anticipate challenges and face them head-on. Sometimes, it is also within these challenges that new opportunities come to light.
A sugary business baked from passion amid the pandemic
During the pandemic, with time on her hands, Jeng rediscovered her passion for baking. She had previously taken an Advanced Pastry and Baking course at the Academy of Pastry Arts Philippines for 9 months and went to Malaysia for a month for more advanced training. However, she couldn't devote time to her baking skills while managing their construction business. The lockdown gave her the extra time she needed to reignite her love for baking.
“Naisip ko, magtuturo ako ng baking sa YouTube. Gagawa ako ng baking videos, tapos pag pino-post ko, maraming nakakakita,” she says.
Her friends noticed her pastries and urged her to sell her cakes. What began as a hobby at home evolved into a sought-after dessert for middle to upper-class families. “Everyday, sobrang dami kong orders. Siguro hanggang singkwenta mayroong nagtatanong sa akin.”
Because of her prior experience with delayed payments in their construction business, Jeng opted against accepting Cash on Delivery payments for her baked goods. Her customers had to pay for her cakes in advance, but this didn’t stop the orders from increasing.
She understood her target market so she ensured her cakes were unique and the quality of her ingredients were superior. “Ang pinaka important, pag kinain ko ‘yong cake dapat gusto ko, dapat maubos ko. Kasi pag kinain ko ‘yong cake at hindi ko gusto, hindi ko ilalabas sa customers.”
Ultimately, Jeng transformed her passion into a thriving business named Heavenly Desserts.
To manage the increasing volume of orders, Jeng converted her dining area, living room, and garage into makeshift kitchens equipped with ovens and freezers. As the orders became too overwhelming for her to handle alone, Jeng trained people from her construction business who were not working due to the pandemic to bake pastries and take orders. In that way, she continued to offer her people a source of livelihood through challenging times.
As her business grew, she saw that a number of her customers were from the South. Despite the willingness of these customers to wait and pay for deliveries from Marikina, which took two hours, Jeng aimed to make her cakes more easily accessible to them. When the lockdowns were lifted, Jeng opened a physical branch in Las Piñas.
Investing and borrowing funds through Sun Life also helped her kickstart and expand her business operations, “When I put up one of my branches, I asked my financial advisor, ‘Can I get something from my funds para magamit ko for one of my branches?’ I was able to get a half million from my VUL. Nakapagpatayo ako ng isang branch.”
Today, Heavenly Desserts has over 9 physical branches.
Despite the success of Heavenly Desserts, Jeng refused to be complacent. She knew there was still more room to grow and more business opportunities to explore.
An appetite for taking and learning from risks
In October 2022, a new business opportunity came from her friends who initiated a restaurant business, District One Gastrolounge, in BGC, Taguig. Jeng joined as one of the restaurant’s main shareholders, facing a fresh set of challenges.
Aware of the sizeable and costly investment required for the restaurant, Jeng and her friends were prepared for any setbacks in their finances. “We prepared at least three months of operational expenses. Kahit hindi kami kumita, tutuloy ang restaurant.” By the third month, the restaurant hit the breakeven point and started earning profits.
Maintaining a strong relationship with her bank, Jeng had access to standby credit for additional funding if necessary. She made it a habit to visit the restaurant location, understand its market, and assess the problems. “There are a lot of restaurants already in BGC, what will make us stand out from them?” They decided to invite famous celebrities and bands who would exclusively perform for their restaurant, which pulled in more customers.
Building a business means constantly finding your taste
Jeng Flores has shown the characteristics every entrepreneur needs: determination and drive. She doesn’t let setbacks stand in her way and she learns from her mistakes and applies them as she moves forward.
Jeng's resourcefulness is another key strength. Not only did she recognize a new business opportunity amidst the pandemic, but she also extended that opportunity to her displaced construction workers. She was resourceful enough to leverage her relationships with banks and Sun Life to secure funding for her business' growth.
She also demonstrates a healthy appetite for risk, as evidenced by her latest venture in BGC. Unafraid of new experiences, she readily confronts challenges and learns from the outcomes. For entrepreneur Jeng Flores, there is no other option but to relentlessly push forward.