Ask any entrepreneur his secret to success, and he would tell you that it is more than just luck. For Victor and Evelyn Lam, the powerhouse couple behind the Mrs. Lam Rice brand, it was really the four Ps of perseverance, persistence, parental care, and prayers for God’s blessings that guided them throughout the years.
Fact is, the family of Victor Lam has been in the rice business for generations before his generation decided to venture into other careers. He learned much of what he knows about the business from his uncles. That’s why he was confident of going back into rice trading in 2000.
After deciding on naming the business after his wife, he went through the arduous process of finding suppliers and trying out different varieties of rice. Unsteady supply from rice traders meant that quality would vary from one purchase to another, from one harvest to another. There was the also the issue of storage. Being new in the business, they learned that rice mills often did not entertain small orders.
“We could not sell rice without a consistent supplier and quality,” says Mrs. Lam. “We had to build our own brand, and consistent quality would be the key to our success.”
The Lams bit the bullet. They ordered an initial stock of 40 sacks of rice, thinking that what they couldn’t sell, they would just cook and serve on their dinner table. Only then did they learn that you could not keep rice in storage for more than three months, because weevils start to grow.
The Lams started to personally sell their rice door-to-door in villages near their home, distributing flyers themselves, and eventually advertising in village publications. They did the deliveries themselves, using their own car and tapping their family driver. Their cook, whom she discovered had an extensive knowledge on rice varieties, helped out by answering and taking down phone inquiries.
Their base of loyal clients eventually grew from their relatives and close friends when they started placing their products in supermarkets. When their first big order came in, her parent’s and sister’s households helped in delivering their commitments in time. Mrs. Lam Rice had become a family endeavor.
Getting into supermarkets proved to be a tough task considering there are already a number of brands in the market.
“Honesty is very important when you deal with people,” says Mrs. Lam. “I remember the first clients we had. Initially we were told they don’t have space to display our rice. But after being very truthful in our answers to their queries, we were allowed to sell two varieties, namely Sinandomeng and Dinorado.”
To stand out from the crowd, the Mrs. Lam Rice brand was the first in the market to introduce vacuum-packed rice as a means of prolonging shelf life. From then on, sales started to grow slowly.
“We started getting accepted in various supermarkets, engaging in retail on a per kilo basis, as in wet markets. We kept our margins very low, and delivered best quality and tasting freshly milled rice. Our rice undergoes processing at par with big Thai rice mills,” says Mrs. Lam
Mrs. Lam Rice caters presently to the broad A to E market segment, from the budget-conscious to discriminating ones. Its premium local rice varieties include Dinorado Special, Whole Grain Sinandomeng, Long Grain, Sinandomeng Special, Intan, Sinandomeng, and Laon—palay that has been aged for a year for those who prefer fluffy and non-sticky grains with more yield. Its specialty varieties includes Thai Jasmine Milagrosa, Japanese short grain variety, Sticky or Glutinous (Malagkit), and Thai White Rice.
“When my father was diagnosed with cancer, we searched for an organic rice supplier and found a cooperative in Nueva Ecija to ensure a steady supply of church supervised farming and certified Organic Red and Organic Brown Rice,” says Mrs. Lam.
“Organic Rice is highly recommended for health enthusiasts as it is absolutely free from synthetic pesticides or chemicals,” she explained. “This is important because in semi polished rice, only the husk is removed. There is no polishing. That’s why we are able to avoid residual pesticides when we eat Organic Rice.”
The company also attended international expositions to upgrade its packaging to international standards. It started working from a small storage facility, roughly around 80 square meters, to intentionally limit its stock to just a few days’ supply of freshly milled rice. It counts top Chinese and Thai restaurants in Metro Manila among its loyal clients.
Breaking new grounds
For the past 16 years, Mrs. Lam Rice has relied on word-of-mouth and client recall to promote its products. However, the firm believes it is now time to actively market its inventory of rice varieties. It recently signed up actress and celebrity mom Danica Sotto-Pingris as its brand ambassador.
“Danica is already serving Mrs Lam’s Rice to her family, and they enjoy it. So, she is the perfect brand endorser for us,”Mrs. Lam proudly declares.
The endorsement of Sotto-Pingris of their rice varieties highlight the family orientation Mrs. Lam Rice wanted when the Lams were searching a name for their product.
“When we were deciding what to call it, my husband wanted a name that was more family sounding,” she recalled.
And the rest is now history.