Profiles, Stories

Brandon and Bryan Liu: On what it takes to continue a family empire

Managing a family business is not as easy as it seems. Although you all come from one family, high-pressure situations and decision-making for the company or business can make or break your familial ties. Nevertheless, Filipino clothing brand Penshoppe and the Liu family, who are the brains behind it, prove that maintaining a family business while keeping a close relationship with your family is still very much possible. 

Bryan Liu is the Vice President for Strategy and Operations of the Penshoppe group while Brandon Liu serves as the company’s Brand Director. Together, they are at the forefront of managing the Penshoppe group and making it an icon in the Filipino clothing retail industry. 

Choosing the family business

In contrast to the typical Chinoy family, the Liu brothers agree that their parents were not the traditional ones who pushed them to take part in managing the family business. They consider themselves lucky that their parents fully supported them in whatever they wanted to pursue in life.

For Bryan, he first worked in a marketing firm while Brandon ventured into the corporate world. Eventually, they realized: why work for someone else when they can contribute their time and skills to help the family business? “Over time it just hit me like, here I am doing all these things for another business. Why don’t I do it for the family? And I think that’s when it started to open up that I wanted to join the family business and rightfully so,” shared Bryan.

From here, they sought the mentorship and expertise of their father, Bernie Liu who is also the CEO of the company.“ My dad is a CEO of a company and we fortunately have direct access to him as a father, as a mentor, as a coach and a guide as we forge our way in our careers,” said Brandon.

The Penshoppe story

Although most of their branches are located in NCR, famous Filipino fashion brand Penshoppe was actually established in the province of Cebu in 1986. It was the brainchild of Bernie Liu, who was a licensed architect during that time. 

What started out as a college project of designing shirts to earn a side income soon turned into a full-fledged clothing business and before they knew it, Penshoppe became one of the leading retail companies in Filipino fashion. The name ‘Penshoppe’ came from their father’s love for the pen, both as an architect and as a designer which jump started his fashion retail company.

The growing success of Penshoppe prompted the expansion of the company to reach farther locations all over the country but what really triggered its expansion were the challenges that their father faced. “I think what triggered Dad to expand and to grow Penshoppe outside of Cebu was the challenge that a lot of his peers or even some family members were doubting that Penshoppe could make it outside of Cebu,” Bryan shared.

More than proving these people wrong, Brandon and Bryan’s father wanted to prove that the Cebuano brand can make it nationally, and true enough, it did.

The first branch of Penshoppe was opened in Metro Manila at SM North EDSA in 1991. Although celebratory fireworks lit up the sky, the grand opening faced challenges of its own as this was also the day of the infamous Mt. Pinatubo eruption. 

Superstitious people would have taken this as a sign of bad luck but it never truly manifested as Penshoppe continues to be among the top homegrown fast fashion brands today.

Secrets to the Penshoppe success

Bryan shares that one of the secrets to Penshoppe’s success was their listening to what their customers truly wanted from the brand. They take this after their father who, when Brandon and Bryan were young, would ask them what they were currently watching, who were their favorite artists as of the moment, what music they were listening to, among others.

“‘Hey, if my kids are looking at these actors today, maybe our market will appreciate it also if we brought them in and made them represent the brand’. And I think that’s how Dad started to slowly venture into bringing these global Hollywood names like Zac Efron,” shared Bryan.

Another key learning from the Liu brothers when it comes to their family business’ success is knowing how to build good relationships with people. All entrepreneurs would agree that businesses are mainly about people, which is why it is important to take care of them. “For my key learning so far, it’s really one of the principles that my angkong shared with my dad who continues to share with us: that business is always about people, so we need to be able to work with people, maintain good relationships with them and together we’ll be able to grow together,” said Brandon.

Being a part of the family business

Although some may have thought that a family’s younger generation has it easier when it comes to working for the family business, this was not the case for Brandon and Bryan who both worked long and hard to reach their well-earned roles.

Despite being the sons of the CEO, Bryan and Brandon joined the Penshoppe group without any special treatment. “We felt that, especially when I joined the family business, you feel that you are under a microscope or under a lens because everyone is watching you more intensely than a regular employee would be. So there is no pressure from the family per se, but I think more on the expectations you put for yourself,” Brandon shared.

Bryan also shared the same sentiments, saying that “My mom and dad made it very, very clear that I would not be getting any form of special treatment outside of having access to them and access to learning and being able to ask questions. They brought me in as a low level employee. Back then, I was put in a small team and I reported to someone else”.

Indeed, there is no better teacher than experience and for the Liu brothers, receiving no special treatment and having to experience the difficulty of going up through the ranks in the company taught them valuable skills and lessons that would prove useful later on. Entering the company at the grassroots level and working their way up slowly but diligently allowed them to truly understand the nitty gritty details of how the Penshoppe company truly works.

Embodying a modern Chinoy

The success of the Penshoppe group can also be attributed to the Chinoy values that Brandon and Bryan were taught, including the importance of hard work, familial ties, and sacrifice. These are also the traditional Chinoy traits that Bryan hopes to impart to his own family while embracing modernity at the same time.

“It is important to me to raise our children with core principles of the Chinoy culture as we grow up. But I think while those core principles stay in place, we have to adapt to the modern times. So I still believe that I’m going to bring up my child with a more global perspective, yet at the same time, not lose that sense of family and respect for elders,” Bryan said.

Brandon also shares the same idea, saying that “ a modern Chinoy would be someone that can bring to the table a balance of the new and the old while maintaining the core values such as respect, integrity and respect for elders,”.

Continuing the family business is as Chinoy as it gets. Although it may get messy at times, Brandon and Bryan Liu’s story proves that a family business can also be a ground for developing a deeper relationship with your family.

“One of the proudest things that I can share in working with the family business is there’s this saying that money and friends don’t go together, right? And sometimes they even say money and family, so much more doesn’t go together. But I’ve always believed that for us, at least for our family, instead of work making it more difficult for us or bringing us apart, I think work has brought us closer together instead,” Brandon said.

Want to learn more about what it takes to manage a family business? Be sure to catch Brandon and Bryan Liu on Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart on CNN Philippines! The series airs every Sunday at 8PM. Stay tuned on CHiNOY TV’s and CNN Philippines’ Facebook pages for further updates.

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