Small entrepreneurs overcome COVID-19 challenges
The year 2020 brought a double whammy for Keith Varias, Citi’s 2017 Youth Microentrepreneur Award recipient and who, at 20-something, had already set up three internet shops in his home province of Cavite.
In January, the small but extremely active Taal Volcano had another “tantrum,” sending residents of nearby towns in Batangas and Cavite scampering to escape its fury. Ash fall reached Alfonso, where Varias lives and where his main shop is based.
Then in March an even bigger crisis had to be faced. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic forced almost the entire country to shut down.
Though devastated by the two events that led to the closure of his internet shops, Varias did not let the crises dampen his entrepreneurial spirit. He reinvented his main computer shop in Alfonso into a food delivery business, realizing that people were not going out to eat while restaurants were trying to stay connected to clients.
His Kaminari delivery service’s slogan is “Abot Hanggang Sulok” (roughly, will reach all corners). It now services 14 restaurants and covers not just Alfonso but also nearby towns and cities like Mendez and Tagaytay.
Varias, one of the recipients of the rehabilitation cash assistance extended to former winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Award (CMA), says COVID-19 taught him he should “set aside part of my earnings for the unexpected and go slow on certain plans, like expansion.” Reynante Manimtim, meanwhile, used his CMA rehabilitation package to bring his siomai business to cyberspace. The pandemic, he says, taught him the advantages of online selling.
The 2017 CMA regional winner for Luzon, who started peddling his product through a food cart, says going online has been a big boost to his business. They are now able to plan their trips to the market based on orders received, instead of doing their shopping daily.
Forced to close his various outlets because of the pandemic, he says in Filipino, “In May, I went online to sell snacks.” Although money was tight, Manimtim says he was optimistic he can recoup his losses if his online business succeeded. When the lockdown eased, he started bringing fresh produce from Batangas to the neighboring province of Laguna and would bring home products that they could sell.
“Everything is done online,” he says. As he had his own vehicle to deliver his products, Manimtim helps other online sellers bring their products to their clients.
When there are no orders to deliver, Manimtim says they sell fresh fish and vegetables in the different barangay of their town of San Juan. Occasionally, he says he still takes his food cart out for a spin so people do not forget about his Princess Siomai, which started it all.
“My wife and I have been through a lot so we were unfazed by the challenges brought by the pandemic,” Manimtim says.
Rosario Amoroto, 2018 CMA regional winner for Visayas, had to suspend the production of their Islands’ Best Foods bottled kalamansi concentrate at the height of the pandemic last year.
Metro Manila is their main market and they could not ship their products because of the quarantines and lockdowns.
Despite the temporary loss of the Metro Manila market, Amoroto, another recipient of the CMA rehabilitation package, tried to help her regular workers and the farmers who supplied her the kalamansi.
The pandemic, she says, provided valuable lessons. “We are now better prepared for emergencies.” Being in the food business, she plans to continue enforcing the strict health and safety protocols prompted by COVID-19. She says they have installed permanent facilities for handwashing, footbaths and showers.
Amoroto has also added a seasonal item to her list of products: pineapple concentrate. Determination, flexibility and resilience—traits that won them the CMA—have once again served well these three outstanding entrepreneurs as they successfully hurdled the challenges of a global pandemic. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
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