Iloilo’s photocopier king

Francis Hinayhinay could have remained a mechanical engineer for the National Power Corp. and look forward to a comfortable retirement.

But he wasn’t the type who stayed put in one place, working in confined space. He always wanted to be on the go, roaming freely where his job could take him. He had worked for a local radio station, dyRP, right after he graduated from college and passed the professional licensure exams for mechanical engineering in 1985.

Shortly after a two-year contract with Napocor had ended, he talked with friends who were working with Bombo Radyo dyFM in Iloilo City about applying as a reporter. The manager wasn’t so encouraging. “What would a mechanical engineer do in broadcasting?” he was asked.

Reunion of bombo 2015
Hinayhinay with his former colleagues from Bombo Radyo in a reunion held in 2015.

Hinayhinay, however, was not to be easily discouraged. Napocor told him he could return to the power generation company a few months later. But he wanted to be in radio. Seeing his persistence, the radio station hired him after a few months.

For six years, Hinayhinay covered the police beat for Bombo Radyo. He also started writing a book of jokes with the title, “Langas-langas”. He had the book printed and personally delivered copies to book stores to be sold.

One bookstore which carried his book was the Diplomat Bookstore which then had a branch on the second floor of the Gaisano City Capital in Lapaz district. He had become friends with the manager who, one day, suggested to Hinayhinay to start a business in photocopying. Diplomat Bookstore allow him to occupy space at its store for free on a profit-sharing scheme.

“I asked for a few days to think about it,” Hinayhinay said in an interview on my radio program over 89.5 Home Radio, “Maayong Gab-i, Iloilo,” on Monday night, June 25. “It sounded like a good deal, and I saw there was a growing need for a good photocopying business,” he added. He took out his entire savings of P25,000 to invest in a photocopier machine and set up shop at the Diplomat Bookstore.

It was 1997.

“During those days, photocopiers still used liquid ink, which made them messy, especially when servicing the machines,” Hinayhinay remembered. He was his own service maintenance man.

Being a radio reporter gave Hinayhinay access to big businessmen. And he became friends with the mall manager of Gaisano City Capital. He saw that the area under the ground floor escalator of the mall was empty space and asked the mall manager if he could put up his photocopying business there. His request was granted, and Hinayhinay’s business thrived with the bigger customer base at his new location.

Soon afterwards, then City Prosecutor Efrain Baldago, who had operated a photocopying service at the Iloilo City Police Office station 1, told him he was giving up the business and invited Hinayhinay to take over his place. Hinayhinay didn’t hesitate and put up his own machine there.

Hinayhinay divided his time doing radio reporting work and his business. And the business kept growing. He saw a good market at the John B. Lacson Maritime Foundation Colleges in Molo with its thousands of students learning how to be deck officers and ship engineers. He opened a branch there.

Before long, with his business expanding, Hinayhinay was finding it difficult to work as a reporter at the same time. He was reluctant to leave his broadcasting work because he looked at it as a safety net just in case his business failed. But it reached a point that he had to decide to give his full attention to his business.

On August 16, 1998, he burned his bridges from a profession he had loved so much and devoted his time and energy to the photocopying business. He didn’t just operate photocopying shops — he also opened branches in key municipalities of Iloilo province — but also started selling photocopying machines and consummables. He resigned from Bombo Radyo.

His brand name was Copya Ilonggo. It quickly became the biggest local photocopying chain.

Inauguration of copya ilonggo branch
Hinayhinay at one of his branch openings for Copya Ilonggo.

His customer base grew in leaps and bounds. At first, he bought refurbished machines from a Manila supplier. “I started to hire technicians to recondition the photocopiers before selling them to customers not only in Iloilo province, but in the entire island of Panay,” he said. Photocopiers were still expensive, and refurbished machines were preferred by small customers.

Hinayhinay always made sure that his customers got the best possible service. “Even when I had hired technicians, I still was involved in cleaning and servicing the machines,” he said. “I made sure that the customers were able to achieve profitable operations, and after-sales service was vital,” he added. The core of his business has always been customer satisfaction. When customers’ businesses soared, so too did his own, Hinayhinay emphasized.

At the start, Hinayhinay owned an old Harabas AUV which had reached almost the end of its serviceable life. It broke more often than it was on the road for deliveries. Hinayhinay remembered one particular deliver when his vehicle conked out after making a deliver in Ajuy, Iloilo. “We had to push the car a long distance to make it start and be able to drive back to Iloilo,” he said.

But through the dint of hard work, perseverance and patience, Hinayhinay found his enterprise growing. His biggest break as a distributor of photocopying machines came about 15 years ago when a Filipino-Chinese businessman visited his office looking for ink used for a Riso duplicating machine. Hinayhinay had a drum in his bodega; it was phased out from the market, and he had no use for it anyway.

Hinayhinay handed over the ink drum to his visitor. When the customer asked how much he needed to pay for it, Hinayhinay said he can take it for free.

He thought nothing more about it until one day that customer called him up. The guy was leaving for China to attend an international exhibition for photocopying equipment. Would Francis want to go with him? the Tsinoy asked.

Francis Hinayhinay China Import Fair
Attending one of the many trade exhibitions in China.

“I didn’t know anything about travelling to China, so I asked him what I needed to do,” Hinayhinay said. The Tsinoy gave him a list of things to do so he could get a visa. After two weeks, both of them went to China for his first exposure to trade exhibitions and fairs that became a regular activity for him. “I travel abroad to China, Thailand, Hongkong and even the United States at least twice a year to attend these trade exhibitions,” he said. It was a good way to build contacts with manufacturers and keep abreast with emerging technology.

Now Hinayhinay lives in a comfortable home in Molo with his wife, Rose, and their two boys. He drives a relatively new SUV, a far cry from the beat-up Harabas he drove when he was just starting with his business.

Despite his success in life and business, Hinayhinay remains humble and never fails to express his gratitude to God. He also believes in helping others so that they, too, can achieve a better life. Already he has helped eight young men and women finish college. “When you give and help others, you are showing your gratitude to God,” he said.

Elephant ride with Rose in Thailand
Hinayhinay rides an elephant with his wife, Rose, in Thailand.

Looking back, Hinayhinay said he cannot believe how far he has gone. As a young boy in Leganes, he often had to work in the ricefields to remove weeds and also in the harvest to earn money for his education. “I know how to weed the fields and cut (“garab”) the rice stalks for harvest,” he said. He is living proof that poverty is not an obstacle to success, that a burning ambition can help one hurdle challenges in life.