Small entrepreneurs overcome challenges of COVID-19
The year 2020 was a double whammy for Keith Varias, winner of the 2017 Citi Prize for Young Microentrepreneurs and who, at 20, had already opened three internet shops in his home province of Cavite.
In January, the small but extremely active Taal volcano had another tantrum, sending residents of the nearby towns of Batangas and Cavite scrambling to escape its fury. The ash fall reached Alfonso, where Varias lives and where his main store is located.
Then, in March, an even more serious crisis had to be faced. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost the entire country to shut down.
Although devastated by the two events that led to the closure of its Internet stores, Varias did not let the crises dampen its entrepreneurial spirit. He reinvented his main computer store in Alfonso into a food delivery business, realizing that people weren’t going out to eat as restaurants tried to keep in touch with customers.
The slogan of its Kaminari delivery service is “Abot Hanggang Sulok” (basically it will reach every corner). It now serves 14 restaurants and covers not only Alfonso, but also neighboring towns like Mendez and Tagaytay.
Varias, one of the recipients of cash rehabilitation assistance given to former Citi Microentrepreneurship Award (CMA) winners, says COVID-19 has taught him that he should “set aside some of my income for the unforeseen and slow down some projects, like expansion. ”Reynante Manimtim, meanwhile, used his CMA rehabilitation program to bring his siomai business into cyberspace. The pandemic, he says, has taught him the benefits of selling online.
The 2017 regional CMA winner for Luzon, who started selling his product in a food cart, said going online has greatly boosted his business. They are now able to plan their trips to the market based on orders received, instead of doing their daily shopping.
Forced to close his various outlets because of the pandemic, he says in Filipino: “In May, I went online to sell snacks.” Although money is limited, Manimtim says he was optimistic that he could recoup his losses if his online business was successful. When the lockdown eased, he began bringing fresh produce from Batangas to neighboring Laguna province and brought home produce they could sell.
“Everything is done online,” he says. Since he had his own vehicle to deliver his products, Manimtim helps other online sellers bring their products to their customers.
When there are no orders to deliver, Manimtim says he sells fresh fish and vegetables in the various barangays in their town of San Juan. Every now and then he says he always pulls out his food cart so people don’t forget about his Princess Siomai, who started it all.
“My wife and I have been through a lot, so we weren’t surprised by the challenges posed by the pandemic,” says Manimtim.
Rosario Amoroto, CMA 2018 regional winner for the Visayas, had to halt production of bottled kalamansi concentrate from their Best Foods islands at the height of the pandemic last year.
Metro Manila is their main market and they couldn’t ship their products due to quarantines and lockdowns.
Despite the temporary loss of the Metro Manila market, Amoroto, another beneficiary of the CMA rehabilitation program, tried to help her regular workers and the farmers who supplied her with kalamansi.
The pandemic, she says, has provided valuable lessons. “We are now better prepared for emergencies.” Being in the food sector, she plans to continue to apply the strict health and safety protocols induced by COVID-19. She says they have installed permanent facilities for hand washing, foot baths and showers.
Amoroto has also added a seasonal item to its product list: pineapple concentrate. Determination, flexibility and resilience – characteristics that earned them the CMA designation – once again served these three exceptional entrepreneurs well as they successfully met the challenges of a global pandemic. —FIVE CONTRIBUTED
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