Matriarch of National Bookstore
There is a Filipino saying that when one sows seeds, he is sure to reap a harvest ("Kapag may itinanim, may aanihin."). For Socorro Cancio Ramos, these words ring true. For what she and her husband, Jose, began as a small pop-and-mom operations in a corner shop in Ermita, Manila is now an institution that is 83 branches–strong nationwide.
Nanay Coring, as she is affectionately called, remarks, “Things cannot be gotten so quickly or easily. But dreams can be fulfilled. If you want something hard and you really work hard for it, you will get it.”
Industry and an enterprising mindset equal success. Nanay Coring learned the truth of this philosophy early in her life. The Cancio family of Sta. Cruz, Laguna was of humble means. The young Coring was witness to the difficulties that her parents, Jose and Emilia, went through to raise their family. Thus, Coring took it upon herself to find a way to help out. All of 12 years old, she started casting about for a job. Her search paid off when a cigarette factory hired her to retrieve the filling from spoiled stock. Her payment was a princely sum of five centavos per package. To finish her assignment faster, she recruited other children to help her. Coring, thus, was able to make a neat sum for herself, and was even able to share the blessing with others.
Coring married Jose T. Ramos in 1942, and together they set up a small book store in a stall at Ermita, Manila. Here they sold supplies, novels and text books. The shop was christened National Book Store.
When World War II broke out, the Ramoses shifted their trade to soap, candies and other daily necessities that they sourced from wholesalers. Unfortunately, the shop burned down during the Liberation of Manila. Undaunted, the couple re-built the store, a modest barong-barong affair, this time located at the corner of Soler and Avenida, Rizal. The Ramoses strategically timed their store’s opening to catch the start of the post-war school year. Consequently, business did briskly as they were only among a few stores that were selling textbooks, notebooks and other school supplies at that time.
Another bump in the road for the Ramoses came in the form of typhoon Gene. The storm leveled their store and ruined their goods. Jose and Coring took the lesson from that experience. They built a two-storey building — this time made out of concrete and boasting of a mezzanine level — along Soler Street.
Another step that the Ramoses took in solidifying their position was in developing and expanding their product lines. Sometime in the 1950s, Nanay Coring thought of producing greeting cards and postcards that featured Filipino scenery and artwork. No one has ever done anything like this before. Therefore, when the cards were sold, these became one of the store’s bestsellers. This also presaged the company’s foray — and eventual mainstay trade — into the greeting cards market. Later on, the store secured rights to the Philippine franchise of Hallmark cards. An important direction that the Ramoses explored was the company’s publishing program. Their intention was to make quality but economically priced books easily accessible to Filipinos. They began the program in the 1950s.They sought and successfully entered into licensing agreements with international publishers like Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill, Hallmark, Addison Wesley, Lippincott, and others.
As business picked up, they were able to acquire a vacant lot – a prime piece of land owned by the Guerreros — just across their store. It took the Ramoses five years of hard work and earnest saving; but it was a source of pride for them that they bought the property without taking out a loan. Construction of the new building started in 1963. When it was completed, the building was named Albecer, after the Ramos children – twin sons Alfredo and Benjamin, and their unica hija, Cecilia. This spanking new nine-storey tall building in Avenida served as National Book Store’s headquarters for many years.
In the ‘70s, National Book Store branched out of the Avenida area to reach more clients. A store was opened in Recto Avenue to accommodate the school needs of students. This period also saw the advent of shopping malls in Metro Manila. The Ramoses, with their characteristic foresight, decided to open branches in the shopping centers in Makati and in Cubao. National Book Store’s expansion continued, riding on the wave of malls mushrooming all over the country, and the market’s increasing demands for a one-stop book store that offers affordable but quality items. Today, National Book Store is a veritable institution among Filipinos who have patronized the store since their schooldays. The company has moreover spun off related stores such as the NBS Bestsellers and specialty store Powerbooks. Truly, it has come a long way from the barong-barong store that used a door as its counter. It employs more than 2,500 people in its operations in over 80 branches nationwide. Needless to say, National Book Store owes its success to an unassuming woman, who remained unfazed by life’s hard knocks – among which was her husband’s demise that left her the sole guide of the company — and whose astute business sense and caring touch continues to be the spirit that drives National Book Store.
Indeed, it was for these qualities that Ernst and Young conferred on Nanay Coring a double award in 2004: Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines, and Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. She was likewise bestowed a Doctor of Humanities (honoris causa) degree by the Ateneo de Manila University in 2006 – a supreme achievement for a woman who was only able to graduate from secondary school. Her other significant awards include: Legacy Award by The Book Development Association of the Philippines (2004); Maverick Awards by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies (2002); Millennium Plaque of Appreciation, together with Jose T. Ramos (post-humous award) from The Book Development Association of the Philippines (2000); Agora Award by the Philippine Marketing Association (1991); and the Gintong Ina Award for the Business and Industry Sector from President Corazon C. Aquino (1988).
Today, at 83 years, Nanay Coring, General Manager of the country’s top bookstore, is still on top of things. She confesses in an interview with The Philippine Star, “I am happy that I can still wake up at 7 a.m., dress up, eat a simple breakfast, and go to work. I enjoy selling because I am and will always be a tindera at heart. I enjoy arranging displays and talking to the employees. I want my children to make National Book Store bigger, to have more branches, to carry more products for students and other consumers.” She is likewise going strong on her mission to promote reading and literacy among Filipinos. This advocacy is being pursued full-time by the National Book Store Foundation, Inc., whose programs reach out to people with the message that reading and learning are instrumental in pursuing one’s dreams and realizing one’s purpose in life. Nanay Coring remarks, “Reading not only is as essential as breathing, but just as I have experienced, it will also lead to many exciting passages marked with success.” As one who has spent over sixty years in the book business and whose own passage through life’s paths met with triumph, one is certain that Socorro Cancio Ramos, 2006 The Outstanding Filipino awardee for Business, knows whereof she speaks.