Editor's note: The Business Mentor is a weekly business column by Armando "Butz" Bartolome, president of GMB Franchise Developers Inc. and chairman of the Association of Filipino Franchisers Inc.
MANILA, Philippines - Three Filipinas harnessed their entrepreneurial skills to begin a business with an advocacy towards helping the environment.
They saw the importance of helping strengthen and promote local products produced by different communities in the country. This paved the way for the birth of ECHOstore.
Five years ago, consumers were not so aware about reusable bags, eco-friendly products and even organic and natural selections.
Fast forward to today and we see: reusable bags in supermarkets and groceries; no plastic bags almost everywhere you shop; banana leaves as wrappers for food, and the formerly lowly malunggay in every noodle, bread or drink.
Today, ECHOstore, a sustainable lifestyle store offering natural and organic food, cosmetics and even fresh produce is definitely a business that is riding the global trend for sustainable choices. Not a fad but a growing trend, the 5-year old business strives to spread the word about its mission in the country and abroad.
Retail veterans Reena Francisco and Chit Juan who founded a coffee chain 20 years ago and saw it grow to about 70 outlets here and abroad, founded this novel idea of a social enterprise.
The third partner, Jeannie Javelosa, is a culture specialist who has worked with National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and is now connected with the Yuchengco Museum as Director and Curator.
The ECHOtrio, as they call themselves, wanted a business they could “age with gracefully” while spreading the word about sustainable living. Jeannie is a yoga teacher, among other hats she wears, while Reena is the foodie and Chit is tasked with the actual organic farming and community engagement.
The trio first opened the store to showcase community products, artisanal wares and food made by small producers who did not have access to groceries or major distribution channels.
“At first, we were just trying the products from communities Chit came across in her coffee buying trips,” Jeannie says.
Then, Jeannie and Reena got invited to do “ECHOdesign labs” where they critiqued community products so they could “graduate” into being displayed and sold at ECHOstore.
Then, before the trio could even relax, coops and organizations started to bring their products for “viewing, tasting and critiquing” and so the shelves of ECHOstore quickly filled up.
Today, they have expanded their tri-concept to include ECHOcafe and ECHOmarket and soon, ECHOdeli, a take away counter for people on the go who need healthy take along meals, snacks and even regular staples like heirloom rice, coffee beans and coconut sugar, tea and chocolates.
The group “goes with the flow” as Jeannie always tells her two partners.
“We listen to our customers” Reena says. “We take note of what they look for in the store” she continues. Lately Reena is developing gluten-free breads and cakes, besides already producing malunggay-enriched pan de sal and loaves which are also used in ECHOcafe and sold in ECHOmarket.
Chit has also observed that people are now more selective when they buy roasted coffee, cacao or tableya and even herbal teas.
“We know our customers are connoisseurs of coffee and chocolate, so we only sell the best we can find,” she says. Chit personally chooses the coffee selections under ECHOstore’s Women in Coffee brand, and the special blend also is served in their cafes.
The trio is not stopping at the flagship store in Serendra. They have put up a small store in Podium to serve the Ortigas market, a licensed store in Centris Walk in Quezon City and soon another licensed store in Davao City.
A special ECHOdeli will also be up in Makati soon, to serve the condo residents of Salcedo Village where the famous Organic Market is open on Saturdays at the park.
“Some people do not have time on weekends, so we have opened an ECHOmarket to serve everyday customers,” Chit says.
The three look at lifestyles of license applicants before they are granted the permission to put up their own ECHOstore clone.
“It’s not about the money,” Chit says. The interested applicants must believe in what we do and what we espouse,” she continues. Then, the applicant is evaluated for their mutual benefit as licensor and licensee.
What does the future hold for ECHOstore? They have already gone online by putting up their own online store –shop.echostore.ph.
“This is the future,” Chit says. "You must be available 24/7 and from any place—be it a mobile device or a desktop computer,” she declares.
Shopping online is definitely a way into more markets for the pioneering concept, which is ECHOstore sustainable lifestyle.
For questions and more information, you may contact Armando "Butz" Bartolome by email: [email protected] His website is http://www.gmb.com.ph