Getting to Know Cebu’s Carbon Market

Getting to Know Cebu’s Carbon MarketEditors Note: This post was written by Kyjean Tomboc. She will be contributing to the PayrollHero blog from time to time.

Before air conditioned supermarkets, food specialty stores, and weekend farmers’ markets came into fashion in Cebu City, there were three major food-shopping destinations that locals from all walks of life trooped into on a regularly basis. You wake up at 3 in the morning and march down to Pasil for the freshest seafood of the day. You head to Tabo-an if you want to stock up on sun-dried fish and squid.  And then there’s Carbon, the mother of all wet markets dotted throughout the city, where every produce and wares imaginable can be found.

A Quick Lesson in History

The Treaty of Paris in 1898 resulted to Spain’s cession of the Philippines to the Americans. This development led to the establishment of a railway system in Cebu (yes, there used to be one!)  in the 1900s which went as far as Danao to the north and Argao to the south of the island. Coal, one of the major products transported via the railway line, was mainly unloaded in the site where a large portion of the Carbon Market stands today. Hence, the area earned its name Carbon which the locals that time used to refer to coal.

More than a hundred years later, you will not find large deposits of coal in this portion of downtown Cebu but all manner of produce – from what’s available the whole year ‘round displayed in all their glory on the asphalt road to interesting gourmet finds that are only accessible if you’re bold enough to enter dark alleys.

Carbon Market Today

The allure of Carbon Market has to do with how everything you can buy from here is cheap. Unbelievably cheap. For the most part, there is no middle man. Vendors either pay low rent or simply find a tiny space in the middle of the market and simply stay there until they’re done for the day.

In October 2010, Joel Binamira, owner of Zubuchon and the Market Man behind the popular Market Manila blog surveyed his readers of the top 12 produce they purchase regularly and asked them to post the total amount they’ve spent on the same set of items. He also asked for the local market or grocery where they bought the produce to be included in their answers. From 34 different shops and markets spanning the country’s main cities, the lowest amount spent for the 12-item list was at Cebu’s Carbon Market.

The market has an interesting personality as the people who populate it, majority of which are from neighboring towns and provinces who settled in the peripheries of the market with their makeshift homes. Many of these settlers have also found a living within the market itself.

Like the mishmash of regional culture among its vendors and the people who call it their home, Carbon is equal parts lively, chaotic, and brimming with a hodgepodge of wares to offer – from fresh produce delivered straight from Mantalongon, Dalaguete (Cebu’s Little Baguio) to ukay-ukay to fighting cocks.

Making Your Way to Cebu’s Carbon Market Like a Pro

Cebu, PhilippinesNavigating Cebu City’s mother of all wet markets can be tricky and intimidating for the uninitiated. This guide is not going to tell you where to find the freshest and cheapest kilo of mangoes in the market nor reveal how much a kilo of pork tenderloins will typically cost when you buy from there. We will leave the mini-discoveries to you! We will, however, provide tips and hacks that are guaranteed to help you become a Carbon Market pro!

  • The market is open 24/7 yet the best time of the day to shop is either early morning or late in the evenings. At around these times, most of the stores in the area are closed for business, giving vendors a chance to occupy the store’s front portion and display their goods. On weekends, you’ll find out that most of these vendors are farmers from the countryside, selling their backyard produce. At one point, we found pomegranates sold at 3 pesos a piece back when it was in season. We scoured supermarkets around the same time but not a piece of pomegranate was seen.
  • Ask and ye shall find! It’s easy to assume that the items on display are the only ones being sold. It’s an entirely different story at the Carbon market though. Say you’re looking for itlog bisaya (free-range eggs)? Often, these rare finds are hidden in some basket or wrapped in paper and are rewarded to those who asked for it.
  • The market is notorious for pickpockets. While the local government has made serious efforts to reduce thievery in the area, it pays to be always on guard. Dress down and leave those pretty little blings at home.
  • A designated parking spot is available. However, it could get filled to capacity during rush hour and weekends. Many find parking a few blocks away from the market and simply walk their way into the crowd and vendors.
  • Think before you haggle. While it’s okay to haggle, particularly if you’re buying in bulk, most of the vendors are only trying to make an honest living. The prices are already cheap, so why haggle?
  • Think of it as a treasure hunt rather than a usual day in the market. Rare finds such as kesong puti (white cheese) carefully wrapped in banana leaves, free range eggs, turmeric, and herbs such as cilantro, coriander, and thyme are typically associated with gourmet food shops or specialty stores. They are, however, can be found at the Carbon Market if you’re willing to delve deeper into the market’s dark (often damp) underbelly. Hint: only one vendor is known to sell kesong puti in the market on weekdays!
  • Find a local who has considerable experience navigating the market to accompany you on your first visit.

Given the bargain prices of high-quality produce, it’s no wonder that the Carbon Market continues to attract shoppers of all stripes – from housewives on a tight weekly budget to restaurant owners looking for food purveyors. Stop by at the market when you can!

Have you been to this side of the city recently? We’d love to hear about your Carbon Market experience!

Want to learn more about the restaurant industry in the Philippines? Download our free Philippine Knowledge Kit, full of market analysis for restaurant owners.

What are we reading?

We have been reading a few books as a team and reviewing and presenting them to each other. Think book report from school, but with learnings applied immediately in the real world.

What are we reading? Here are the 4 that we are working on.

Want to follow along? Check out our GoodReads pages to see what next and feel free to drop a comment as to what books we should check out.

Recap: Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce SME Conference


I had the honour to speak at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce event the other day at Suntec City in the heart of Singapore. This annual event organized by the chamber is the largest conference for SMEs with over 5000 registered attendees.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of CommerceThe theme for the conference was “The new SME. Think Creatively. Act Innovatively”. The concept was all about helping Singapore’s small and medium enterprises think outside the box when it comes to their challenges. Singapore’s SME sector has challenges around finding and retaining talent, growing outside the country and using technology to take businesses to the next level.

The session I was a part of was broken down with four speakers and then a panel session with a question and answer period moderated by Mr. Stephen Lim the CEO of SQL View and involving questions from the audience.

The first speaker up was Dr. Christopher Holmes, the Managing Director of IDC Insights Asia Pacific. Christopher opened the day with his talk titled “Digitization: Disruptor and Transformer” that included stats about where SMEs are going and how technology is changing the face of business.

Next up was Jenny Jang, the Manager of International Business Development for Jiransoft. Jenny’s talk, “Internet of Things, Jiransoft’s Perspective” was all about the internet of things and how devices are getting smarter and smarter. Interestingly, her slides predicted that we are all on our way to carrying around 7 connected smart devices. (think Apple Watch, iPhone, Kindle, Laptop, etc)

Unlocking value through an Innovation EcosystemI was up next with the simple task of telling my story. Myself and my business partner Michael Stephenson has been in business together since 2000 and our journey has seen us start four businesses, selling two of them and brought us to the Philippines, Singapore and into the payroll space. The point of my story was to showcase how thinking outside the box can push you on unexpected journeys and I included a bit about my wife’s accidental business and how she has embraced change.

Wrapping up the speaking section of the day was Mr. Law Chee Keong, Director for Apigee. Chee Keong’s talk, titled “Unlocking value through an Innovation Ecosystem” wrapped up the 3 previous talks with more stats about the future, how the internet of things would continue to change our lives and how SMEs can and need to think about what their businesses will look like in the future.

To wrap up, Stephen Lim, myself and the three other speakers sat down on the stage to take some questions and chat about SMEs.

The day finished off with a VIP dinner at the Singapore flyer hosted by the owner of the flyer, Mr. Wu Hsioh Kwang and the President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commence Mr. Thomas Chua Kee Seng. As part of the dinner, we were treated to a showing of 47 Hill Street, “a show that brings SCCCI history to life, a true reflection on Singapore’s history”. It is worth checking out and gives some great background on the founding of Singapore and the chamber.

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Ninoy Aquino Day | Philippine Holiday


Ninoy Aquino Day is a national non-working holiday in the Philippines observed annually on August 21, commemorating the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, who was later to become Philippine President; they are treated as two of the heroes of democracy in the country. His assassination led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25, 1986, through the People Power Revolution. In 2004, the commemoration ceremony for the holiday was held and events were attended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel V. Ramos.” *wikipedia


Retail Executive: Joey Qua, CEO,

Introducing Joey Qua, CEO, with 25 branches nationwide and a growing restaurant business.

Joey V. Qua1. Can you tell us more about your background in retail?  
We started Collezione C2 15 years ago with one branch in Festival Mall Alabang. Collezione C2 is a second generation brand that I started back in 2000 after coming back from my studies and work in the U.S.

The original Collezione (C1) was established by my father 43 years ago (est. 1972) when he saw the need to develop a local label (of polo shirts) in order fulfil the needs of the Philippine market that had a severe shortage in supply of quality clothing during that time due to heightened import and travel restrictions because of Martial Law.

Today, Collezione C2 has grown to 25 branches nationwide. It exists side by side with the mother brand Collezione (C1) which is the more classic and conservative label, designed to cater to a more mature set of customers and sold in department stores only – while on the other hand, Collezione C2 which is the more hip and modern label, caters to the younger segment of the market and is sold only in free standing stores in the different malls around the country.

noy noy2. Your clothes are pretty famous, even the President wears them, how did that come about?

Collezione C2’s design DNA is based on three tenets: Fashion, Arts and Nationalism….. and because we were able to create a very unique and iconic polo shirt with the Philippine map design back in 2008, a lot of Filipinos embraced the design concept and felt a deep sense of patriotism and love of country along with it. Being the President of the Philippines, President Noynoy shares the same deep love and patriotism for our nation just like our brand, and he decided to start wearing our shirts during less formal occasions. And of course, we are very happy, honored and grateful to him for doing so – he shares the same passion for love of country as we do.

3. How many retail stores do you have? 
Collezione C2 currently has 25 free standing stores in the different malls nationwide.

Collezione-c2.com4. How do you decide on a location? (mall, street level, etc)
As many retail experts would say: Location, Location, Location is the key to the success of a store….. Which I strongly believe in – unfortunately, there is so much competition in today’s retail landscape that a retailer will just have to make do with what is available and make certain compromises and adjustments in order to make the store location work – even if it is far from being in a prime location. We have a team in our organization that scouts the area of the given space at different times of the day and of the week, and we also study the different retail brands beside and across from the location being offered to us, we make our own internal calculations if the foot traffic and retail sales from the different stores around the site reconciles. And if the numbers look good and promising, then we sign on the dotted line with our retail partners, which are the mall operators. At the end of the day, we want to establish a ‘win-win’ formula between us retailers and the mall operators because at the end of the day, our success is their success as well, and vice versa.

5. At what point did the number of locations change how the business is run? 
For us, after 12 to 15 branches, we had to seriously consider re-organizing the company and adding more departments to address the growth of the business. For one, we had to switch our POS system at the frontend and the software systems at the backend to accommodate a bigger volume of sales and inventory. Moreover, we also had to upgrade our people in terms of job experience, skill-set quality, and manpower requirements. We simply outgrew the system at our 12thto 15th branch.

Collezione-c2.com6. What was the tipping point for you?
When you reach a certain sales volume, and your backend is not equipped to handle it, then disorganization and inefficiency will surface in your day-to-day operations and chaos will likely ensue – so before that even happens, you should have the foresight to have your backend ready to address the rise in demand of the business.

7. What does the ASEAN integration mean for your business?  
2 things, opportunity and competition – you just have to step up to the plate and take your business to the next level or you will end up irrelevant if you do not innovate fast enough to meet the demands of a more intense competitive environment.

8. What are the benefits of operating in the Philippines? downsides?
For one, we are experiencing a growth in the economy and population…. there is a growing middle-class which means disposable income is on the rise, which gives retailers the opportunity to serve deeper pockets. The downside is that the barriers to entry for the retail sector is being lifted at an accelerated pace right now – there are just so many retail brands out there, whether global or regional, that have been aggressively coming here and expanding in our shores which make the local brands like us have to deal with a plethora of competition for both market share and retail space.

9. You are involved in restaurants now, how did that come about?
It’s always good to spread your investments or business interests in different sectors or industries, especially now that the competition is getting stiffer and stiffer in retail…… diversifying and spreading the risk is more like it.

9. What is different from the restaurant business to the retail business in the Philippines?
I believe it’s somewhat the same….. both businesses involve people management, products and services. But of course the differences will be in the creative concept and business model.

10. Do you think about locations differently for restaurants?  
We go about it the same way, it’s just that the criteria that we set is different for clothing retail than for the restaurant business. If it meets certain criteria then we proceed with the build.

11. What is next for you in your retail/restaurant businesses? 
For clothing retail, we are more discerning and selective with our expansion plans since we are at 25 stores already, for the restaurant business, we are much more aggressive because we have a few stores open and a couple in the pipeline and we feel that there is more room for growth in this sector.

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