Sharon Tan Chua is a young mother of three who used to be a pre-school teacher until she put her career on hold to take care of her growing sons aged 7, 4 and 2. Sometime July this year she wrote to us at ECHOstore and asked if she could open a store just like it. It was a very touching e-mail. She praised us for our concept and expressed her desire to have one like it in her “neck of the woods”—in Quezon City.
ECHOstore is the pioneering sustainable lifestyle store in the country which we started in 2008. In 2010 we started our own ECHOfarms to grow real organic vegetables. In 2011 we opened ECHOmarket to sell fresh organic produce, grass-fed beef, pastured pork and free range chickens. Our ECHOcafe serves recipes from ingredients that we also sell in ECHOmarket and ECHOstore.
As we were still wrapping up the Philippine Pavilion souvenir shop in Yeosu, Korea, I e-mailed Sharon saying that she would have to wait a while as the ECHOstore’s directors were out until mid-August. Sharon then went to Serendra and talked to our store manager and shared her dreams of having a store just like the flagship store which she was visiting. And she again wrote me to say that she had visited the store several times and was dead set on meeting up when I came back from Korea.
We finally agreed to meet and I asked her to do some assignments with regards her chosen site. She was to do a market study and a competition check, if there was any competing concept, store or market. She would have to count foot traffic, count car-riding customers, time of busiest traffic, etc. And she did. She showed me a video of a typical Sunday in Centris Walk.
What impressed me was her tenacity and perseverance and her story as a mother. She had to change her children’s diets to organic and natural food so they could focus in school and in doing their homework. Once they have extra doses of sweets and fast food, she noticed how they become hyperactive and have shorter spans of attention. Some call it ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and besides that condition, her son was also tested dyslexic.
She started changing her family’s meals into healthier ones and would line up for 30 minutes at a Sunday market just to get and pay for organic vegetables. She would be very careful in choosing snacks and started her kids on carrot and malunggay chips. She knew she was not alone as many mothers have children who have special conditions. So she knew that an idea for a “sustainable lifestyle” store in her area was timely.
I was pleasantly surprised to know that even her in-laws would only choose fish that came from sustainable sources. And would only choose fish that was good for his own children and grandchildren. After all, they have been in the fish business for about 75 years now. They know their fish.
I gave her a rundown of possible costs and investments. And she did her homework. She and her ever-supportive spouse, Christopher, would brave the long drive from Quezon City to Serendra to attend our meetings which now became almost weekly, as we neared the construction phase and the training phase.
In about six weeks after writing me, she formalized her Letter of Intent. Then in exactly ten weeks, she was ready to open.
It also helped that a relative was an interior designer who is also familiar with ECHOstore. She used organic touches and followed our recommended finish and equipment. The store turned out to be a beautiful and functional space. Sharon even specified that there be a “kiddie area” so kids like hers can play while the mothers shopped.
She tried all the ECHOcafe recipes by serving them to her kids. And checked if they genuinely liked the healthful flavors of the ECHOcafe menu choices.
Is it about making money on a business that’s new and trendy? Sharon says that it is more than a business—it actually is adopting a lifestyle. And her relatives have supported her in her choice and have actually started “going green” and local, too.
So, to the many who ask her on how much it costs to get a license to operate an ECHOstore branch, she says: “It’s not about the money.” And I echo her reply. Running a sustainable lifestyle store is not about just having a business. It is about promoting the love for the self, community and the planet. It is about believing in “Reduce. Reuse and Recycle.” It is about promoting locavorism and sustainability so people may live while making others live. If you live the lifestyle and you can “walk the talk,” then you can be the next Sharon, the next Mom or Dad who can spread the ECHO gospel in your “neck of the woods.”