Business Mentor: An entrepreneur amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Armando Bartolome

Posted at Jul 03 2021 08:25 AM

Business Mentor: An entrepreneur amid the COVID-19 pandemic 1
Ms. Pacita U. Juan. Handout photo

Pacita U. Juan, better known as Chit is the founder of ECHOstore sustainable lifestyle, a pioneer in retail of eco-friendly, organic and natural products established back in 2008. 

Even before sustainability became a buzzword ECHOstore established itself in malls in NCR, and in off-mall locations in Davao and Cagayan de Oro. 

She is also the founder of many start-ups like a coffee shop chain, a Filipino Quick service restaurant, and a farm-to-table restaurant. 

These days Chit manages her fulfillment hub by making her store her stockroom and dispatching area too. Repurposing a cafe into an e-commerce hub.

AOB: Hello Ms. Juan. How have you been the past 12 months? Anything new with ECHOstore? How is a serial entrepreneur coping with these challenging times?

PUJ: I was included in a Resilience survey conducted by an academic institution, and to really cover my case, I was interviewed last December, this May and another one in December 2021. The experts wish to document what challenges I have gone through since COVID-19 started and how an entrepreneur, an MSME, has addressed the brickbats thrown our way---lockdowns, logistical challenges, closing of malls, health protocols, supplier issues, inventory management and even personal decisions.

AOB: How did you feel being the subject of such a survey?

I thought it was such a good account of where we have been and where we are going in the foreseeable future. As I answered the academic’s queries, I closed my eyes at times (I turned my video off) and reflected on what has happened for the last 14 months going on 15, 16 and surely another year or so. Times are really so different already. 

AOB: Can you share with us some of the questions asked of you?

Here are some of the questions I was asked…

How have you changed in dealing with problems or issues?

I became more realistic if not fatalistic. I learned to accept change and embrace change. And rather than getting angry or frustrated, I became more grounded, willing to learn new things and accepting those I cannot change. (It does sound like Desiderata). 

How have your partners managed in these challenging times?

We met and decided to just take things in stride. We remained true to our mission no matter how difficult the times and agreed as a group that our business model will have to change. We decided as a group to close all our mall stores, and just concentrate on online sales—thus the drive to improve our e-commerce site.

What have you learned in the last year?

Besides learning to think like a millennial to deal with e-commerce and technology, I had to learn new terms, new ways of doing business, and learning a little more about technology –Search Engine Optimization or SEO, User Experience (UX) and “pixels” and other tech terms I just used to delegate to the young.

Would you do anything differently when this is over?

I do not think “this” will be over. I think “this” is going to be it for a long time. We are all just needing to change maybe our business models, maybe the business itself, or maybe deciding how long we can keep on. One thing is certain: we do not know how long “this” will be.


AOB: Wow, that must have been a revelation to yourself and your partners! Did it help you think of next steps?

So, as I was about to sleep that night, I thought that was a good interview. It made me think and reflect on what I and the team have done for about 14 months now…not bad at all. It made me think hard about how I managed my own feelings and how we have navigated so far- both business-wise and personal life-wise. Would I do it all over again? Would I start another business?

AOB: What can you advise our entrepreneurs faced with the same hard questions?

So, for those who are still stuck in waiting for the lockdown to ease, you better think of other things to do. Maybe think of not needing as many employees as before, maybe rethinking your inventory and making quick smart decisions if it is retail you are into because things expire, food expires and many things get dated, overpriced and obsolete.

Think about your hard assets. Will you still be needing these or are you better off selling them at a bargain, freeing up space or not needing to store and get a warehouse for them.

Think about your soft assets. What happens to your brand? Do you park it and revive it at some point? Have you removed your signboards and posters and any telltale sign that your brand was there? That’s the first thing you need to remove, actually. Do not let people see your brand as closed, in need of repair or fading away in a signboard.

Think about your employees. Talk to them about the state of the business. Be honest and tell them what you are going through. Maybe they will even help you make decisions. 

Think about your stakeholders. Talk to your suppliers and service providers. Let them know you are also thinking of ways to mitigate the effects of business closure or downturn. They may be the same ones who will help you in the next business venture. Be realistic and show them in earnest what your plans are.

AOB: Thank you for that self-examination tip or tips. What else must we watch out for?

Keep your wits about you. Never be the stressed or be the weak link in your system. Keep yourself healthy, maybe not so wealthy, but wise. There is nothing like a healthy body and a healthy mind to keep the business going, no matter how much smaller or slower the business may become. Health issues are best avoided so we can tackle the bigger issues like business continuity and keeping to our mission.

Be sane, sober and healthy. Find time to do this exercise and you may be off to a better Chapter two of your business.

AOB: Thanks, Chit, for sharing with us a part of your journey. I am sure our entrepreneurs will find your suggestions useful.