Salabat po, salamat!

By: Amy Tse

Ginger brew… “Seb”, I called out to my business partner, “I think our business is some type of ginger alcohol drink!” Little did we know, ginger brew was actually the very antithesis of alcohol – representing all that was healthy, ginger brew, or salabat, was a magical concoction that claimed to be an antidote to all sicknesses known to mankind.

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Instant Salabat, aka. ginger brew

Instant salabat is essentially ginger juice boiled down to a powder by adding sugar. It features as the star product of our business, G&G, run and managed by a tiny but ambitious woman named Gilden. G&G is the biggest salabat producer on Guimaras and has its humble beginnings as a joint business venture between Gilden and her sister, Grace. Steadily expanding since its inception, G&G now sells in Iloilo City and Negroes. During one of our first conversations with Gilden, Seb & I learned the carefully thought out, levelheaded, yet aspiring visions for the small business. The grand visions of Gilden, of selling her salabat in SM City mall in Iloilo, was juxtaposed to the humble, albeit clean, factory nestled in the mountains of Nueva Valencia where even cellphone signal could not penetrate. But Gilden helped connect these two dots for me by explaining how exactly she was going to get there: “first, we need to fix the roof, then paint the floor, install airtight windows with netting, and also make a new well that supplies clean water, so that we can get the BFAD approval, and then we can sell in SM City.”

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Gilden, an entrepreneurial businesswoman

 

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two workers at the machine that squashes the ginger & one worker straining the juice

 

As a consulting experience, G&G was the perfect client. Thanks to Gilden’s clear vision for her business, it was relatively easy pinning down the main problems G&G was facing: the inefficiency & lack of motivation of workers, the lack of finances for acquiring the BFAD, and the lack of marketing & branding. To each of these problems, my business partner and I were able to work closely with Gilden to propose and tweak our suggestions to her during our routine early morning meetings. Scheduling our meetings always in the early morning, Gilden and her husband are up and running about the island, delivering stock, selling to potential customers, and running business errands before the sun can show off all its glory when it reaches the pinnacle of its daily orbit from east to west. Her routine is quite the epitome of the old saying, ‘the early bird gets the worm’. In this sense, working with G&G has taught me a lot about running a business and building a successful one from the ground up. I’d say the secret to Gilden’s success is passion and belief in the magic of her product together with the endless dedication and perseverance of making others believe in the magic too.

Business on Guimaras Island had its own unique touch, and working with G&G has helped me understand its nuances. Walking into any shop targeted for tourists on Guimaras, one will quickly be overwhelmed – but not quite overwhelmed by the plethora of varieties as one might expect, no, rather, overwhelmed by the homogeneity of the products. As you scan a row of shelves, you will see nothing but mango piayas (a form of pancake with mango jam stuffing) all wrapped in the same rectangular see-through plastic packages. As you scan another row, you encounter jars upon jars of mango jam, mango concentrate, and the occasional calamansi juice. Even salabat, of which I have become quite the industry expert, has its competitors – all of whom use the same packaging.

 

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Rewel’s – a competitor

 

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Canhawan – another competitor

But why? When I asked Gilden to explain to me the concept behind her packaging, she simply replied, “I don’t know, my sister Grace, she is the one who make the label”. But even then, I anticipated that the concept of marketing & branding through unique packaging didn’t quite occur to the sisters. However, it is not to say that it was a misdoing or that they lacked some sort of business knowledge that could’ve greatly improved their profit margin. For in fact, G&G is profitable and has successfully provided Gilden the means to support her children’s schooling and even the livelihood of several relatives. Which brings me to another aspect of business in Guimaras, the hiring of relatives. When Gilden introduced her five employees to us, she introduced them not by name, but rather but their relation to her, “this is my sister-in-law, she manages the factory when I’m not here, this is my husband’s cousin…” and so on. Although I could sense that Gilden feels bound by a sense of duty and responsibility to her family members, it didn’t stop my business partner and me in telling her that her relatives were holding the business back. Plagued by a lack of motivation and the inability to see that the well being of the business would inevitably benefit them too, the workers were inefficient, which essentially adds to Gilden’s production costs. To my surprise, she nodded her head in silent agreement. That was when I realized that sometimes, business is more about revenue and profits – it’s about livelihood.

I came to question the very basis upon which the discipline of business was built. Are all the business theories and principles that we’re taught in classrooms the correct way to approach the practice of running a business? Is it the only way? For surely, businesses on the island wouldn’t exist if it weren’t profitable, which only means that they are. And if they’re doing just fine without utilizing lofty principles such as marketing & branding, writing balance sheets and income statements, and identifying target customers, on what grounds do these lofty principles stand?

All in all, as I wrap up my philosophical musings, this course has been rewarding especially because it was my first consulting experience in which we had the opportunity to work so closely with the client – the closest experience I’ve had to real life, professional consulting. However, as I reflect on our role here on Guimaras, I realize that we come from a very different place socially and academically, and thus our ideals and notions of business are very different from people on the island. As a result, even though we may hold steadfast in our belief of the importance and efficacy of business theories and principles, we must also admire, respect, and learn from the businesses and business owners of Guimaras Island.

 

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