National Book Store, the Philippine’s largest chain of bookstores is the featured success story for today as we witness the life story of the woman behind it, Socorro Ramos or more commonly know to her staff as Nanay Coring.
Her story is truly an inspiring one as she built the business National Book Store from scratch with a lot of challenges and hurdles as she and her husband Jose Ramos literally built and rebuilt the business three times from scratch. That’s the true entrepreneurial spirit with enough courage and determination.
Nanay Coring or Maria Socorro Cancio in her early years was born in Sta. Cruz, Laguna on September 23, 1923. Even when she was still young, she grew up in an entrepreneurial environment as one of the six children born to entrepreneur parents and grandmother. Her parents used to ran a store selling a lot of stuff from slippers to clothes and a lot more while her grandmother had a market stall where the young Socorro got used to seeing customers withdraw items on credit. Unfortunately, her grandmother did not manage the business carefully not maintaining a list of those items availed on credit and their business fell.
After that event, they went to Manila. Her mother struggled hard to feed six children and the young Socorro considered herself as lucky if she got money from her mother. Her elder sisters helped the family by working in a candy and bubble gum factory and she spent her summer doing summer jobs too. In one instance, young Socorro was hired to peel off the paper used in old cigarettes so that it can be reused to make new fresh cigarette sticks. She received 5 centavos per pack of cigarettes. But the young Socorro started her entrepreneurial skills and hired kids and their neighborhood paying them 5 centavos for every two pack of cigarettes leveraging her efforts. Since then, the young Socorro was on her way to becoming an entrepreneur as early as 10 years old!
Immediately after graduating from Arellano High School, she worked as a salesgirl at Goodwill Book Store owned by the family of her present husband Jose Ramos. Socorro’s brother Manuel married one of the Ramos children and in 1940, they needed someone to look after the branch they set up along Escolta Street, on the ground floor of Panciteria National. Jose Ramos took over it and asked Socorro to work on him in that branch. They renamed it as National Book Store.
Their love story began but her parents were against with it as Socorro was just 18 years old back then. She was told to stay in the province to keep away from marrying Jose Ramos. But as they say, true love never dies, the young Socorro with just 11 pesos in her pocket, struggled to went back to Manila to marry Jose. Because of this act, her family was so furious and angry that they considered her dead already. It was short-lived though lasting only until Socorro gave birth to her twins named Alfredo, who is now the President of National Book Store and Benjamin, now the Vice President.
As mentioned above, the business National Book Store faced a lot of challenges as it was built and rebuilt three times from scratch.
First, Socorro admitted that it was not easy to start the business from scratch. She recalled that during the Japanese occupation, they would look on each and every book title on sale. If they found questionable books, they would just tear the pages off leaving them useless. So instead of selling books, Socorro and Jose decided to fill their bookshelves with stuffs from candies, soap, slippers, papers, and cigarettes. During the war, she would transfer goods to her smaller stores.
Second, when the Japanese were driven away, it was now the time for the Americans. Their National Book Store stall in Escolta was damaged in the war. They recovered a bit by selling unused greeting cards and uncensored books, which they had hidden in their home.
Third, in 1945, they relocated their National Book Store previously located at Escolta to Avenida. The business is doing quite well during first few post-war school years but unfortunately, three years after, a typhoon blew the roof of their store and they were left with soaked books and stuffs that were worthless. Again, for the third time, they have to start from zero.
They struggled hard to rebuilt National Book Store for the third time. But since then, every centavo that they earned were used to buy the lot where the Rizal Avenue Branch of National Book Store stands to this day.
Today, National Book Store is considered as the largest chain of bookstores in the country. They have ventured into several businesses already such as a convenience-type store named NBS Book Express, publishing companies named Cacho-Hermanos printing press, Anvil Books and Capitol-Atlas Publishing, another book store named Powerbooks, music store named Tower Records and Music One, Gift Gate, the home of Hello Kitty and Swatch, and a department store named Crossings department store. Socorro’s children and relatives ran all these.
Socorro Ramos’ life and success story and the challenges that she faced with her business National Book Store business was another inspiring story. In fact, it was recognized when she was chosen as the Ernst and Young’s Philippine Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005.
Today, at the age of 85, Socorro Ramos or Nanay Coring acts as the General Manager of National Book Store. And she told that the core values in her success are to keep learning, being actively involved in the business, being able to read changes and act on them immediately, and most of all, never give up!
Anna Maria L. Wong