Socorro Ramos: the pillar behind National Book Store

ALL life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today. That quote from Pope Paul VI best epitomizes this amazing lady.

Socorro Cancio-Ramos is the matriarch of National Book Store, the Philippines’ leading retailer of books, office supplies, and greeting cards — a rare example of a businesswoman who watched her efforts fail multiple times, then rose from the ashes to succeed with one more try at the same venture.

Socorro or “Coring” as she is fondly called, was born into a family of shopkeepers who were thrown into poverty after losing the family business. While working for her brother-in-law, Coring met and fell in love with Jose Ramos. They got married and the couple founded National Book Store in 1940. Unable to afford extra help, she worked not only as manager but also as cashier, purchaser, saleslady, janitor, and helper – all rolled into one.

After the Japanese occupation, the Ramos couple was able to rebuild a shanty in the corner of Soler and Avenida Rizal in time to catch the boom of post-war business. Using the door of their house as a counter, Ramos again started selling textbooks, notebooks, pad paper, and pencils in time for the first postwar school year in the country. Just like that, National Book Store made its transition from being a general merchandise store to a store that sells books and more. Business went well mainly because only a few stores sold school supplies during that time.

The building that they built was damaged when typhoon Gene entered the Philippines, destroying dozens of houses and property. Their house and store were taken down and all the merchandise soaked. But this did not bring down the Ramos couple. They worked harder, they slept for only three hours a day spending the rest of their time rebuilding the business. Eventually, through will and determination, the Ramos couple was able to construct a two-story building complete with mezzanine that would be their store for years.

In the 1950s, Socorro Ramos thought of producing a line of greeting cards and postcards using Philippine views and artwork. By creating a distinct design, it promoted Filipino culture to the rest of the world. The company later acquired the national franchise for Hallmark Cards. It was also at that time that they began a publishing program with the assistance of international publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Lippincott, and Addison-Wesley.

After more than a decade, Ramos acquired a nine-story building along Avenida Rizal, and in 1963, the construction of the Albecer Building (Albecer taken from Ramos’ three children – Alfredo, Benjamin, and Cecilia) began. Little did the Ramos couple know that the Albecer Building would be the first of many buildings they would build. Socorro Ramos now has more than 2,500 employees in over 80 branches of her once-small stall. From a humble beginning, Ramos’ National Book Store is the Philippines’ biggest book store chain and an icon in the country’s retail industry.

Today, she has expanded the National Book Store chain into an empire that spans a variety of various businesses, including publishing, a music store, a department store, and several other convenience and gift stores. What has become the Ramos family business has not stopped growing since, having opened Powerbooks in 1996, a popular specialty book store. The best part – she has successfully kept the family business intact, employing all three of her children as well as grandchildren and other relatives.

During the 70s, National Book Store sold reprinted versions of foreign-printed college textbooks for 75 percent less than their usual cost. Thus, students, especially those coming from poor families, were able to save huge amounts of money. According to her, she remembers her cash-strapped childhood, so she’s committed to lifelong learning. She tries to make the books affordable to customers at all economic levels.

Coring has been recognized for her outstanding success both in the Philippines and the larger world. She was the 2005 winner of Ernst and Young’s Philippine Entrepreneur of the Year award. Other notable awards include: Agora Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship (1991); DTI Outstanding Filipino Retailer Award (2001); The Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) Award (2006); and Filipino-Chinese Federation of Business and Professional Women of the Philippines Award for Business (2007).

With all her awards and wealth, Socorro Ramos stays humble and credits her success to values. She constantly monitors the business landscape. She says there’s always something new to learn; successful business people must remember this and keep their minds open.

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