Pilipinas: The cradle of entrepreneurs

16 March 2015
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MANILA, Philippines – After 30 years of leading FMCG companies around the world, working on five continents and in over 50 countries, I have to say the verdict is in. The Philippines is the “king” of entrepreneurship.  The cradle of entrepreneurs.  Nobody does it better.

The stories of how John Gokongwei built his empire from selling peanuts on the street corners of Cebu; to Henry Sy’s mind-boggling risk-taking in opening SM North Edsa during a time of relative instability; to Lucio Co sleeping in his father’s glassware store in Greenhills to save time and money — these are stories so inspirational they rival any similar rags-to-riches success stories in the world today. They are on par, if not better, than the Steve Jobs “starting-in-his-garage” story.

What these individuals achieved is nothing short of amazing. And they all did it through going for the “mass market,” the everyday consumer in the country.

The entrepreneurial greatness of the Philippines is not only defined by the large and mass-market successes but equally by the “niche” marketing models that are also impressive and dominant, yet within a more defined realm.  And for many aspiring entrepreneurs, their future is in pursuing highly targeted, niche categories and channels, so this is where they can draw inspiration and learning from.

One such success story is one of my Filipino favorites, and if ever there was a brilliant niche marketing strategy put into play, it is this example.

The target market is not even consumer-based. The target consumers are dogs!

This is how it all started. Passion. Cherrie loved her dog. She loves dogs. And this made her inherently interested in the niche!

So Cherrie took a closer look at the collar and saw the logo “EzyDog,” which she then Googled and found a website. She was deeply impressed with the product line, which extended far beyond collars. She found out the company is based in Australia, had been in business only a few years, and had a spotty international business outside of the major markets of the USA and Japan.

She and her husband talked it over and decided to try and import EzyDog into the Philippines. They had many discussions with the Aussie owners, and after finding they had similar views, ventured to Australia in 2007 and came back with the exclusive importation rights for EzyDog in the Philippines.

But a signed contract was only the beginning. Cherrie faced daunting hurdles. EzyDog is truly a niche product, not only for pet owners but also for a selected niche within the pet owners’ universe. You see, EzyDog is the Rolls-Royce of pet products. Collars and leashes sell for P1,500 instead of the mass-market rate of P150! So Cherrie had to focus to build a brand and target her potential consumers.

She spent those early years smartly turning away the easy money with orders from various retail outlets, and built the brand selling directly to her target market. She gained endorsements from leading breeders and clubs. She was a mainstay at the high-end bazaars in Manila that her target consumers would frequent. And, day by day and month by month, through word of mouth and social media, she built the brand. EzyDog became known, quite simply, as “the best” for your dog.

Brand building is what it is all about. So once her brand started to really establish itself, Cherrie found herself suddenly with doors opening everywhere. She was offered to list her products in the most exclusive and leading pet stores in the country, broadening the reach and availability of EzyDog to her potential consumers.

Today, EzyDog is the market leader in the premium pet-care segment. It is the gold standard. What was once a hobby went from sales of P500,000 to multimillions per month! EzyDog Philippines is so critical to the parent company worldwide, it is now No. 3 globally in sales turnover!

All started by one determined woman, her husband, and a dog named Lucas.  Working out of their dining room. Starting grassroots and selling one person, one dog, at a time. Building a business the old-fashioned way.

Through brilliant marketing, business planning, persistence, patience, and an eye towards the future, EzyDog has been built into an empire of sorts. Yes, it is not mass market. But in its realm, EzyDog is king.

The next time you see someone walking their dog, just remember, underneath there is a brilliant Filipina entrepreneur who most probably is the purveyor of the leash and collar.

We live in the cradle of entrepreneurs; we just may not always notice that behind simple acts of everyday life, there lies another Pinoy success story of building a brand and a company out of nothing.

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