THE STORY OF PAPEMELROTI
First, Ill give you an overview. We started in 1967 with a little shop along Tomas Morato, Quezon City, Philippines. We used to live on the second floor and my mom would make things and sell it in the shop below. At present, 31 years after, we have a family corporation, KORBEN, with our main office in Roces Ave., we have a factory in Bulacan with an apartment for our factory workers, and we have 9 branches in Metro Manila and one in SM Cebu- Papemelroti retail shops are located in Ali mall (since 1976), SM City (since 1985), RG, MM, Quad, CP Sta. Mesa, Southmall LP, Ever Gotesco C.M. Recto. We sell wholesale to several stores in the provinces and we also export to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc.
My mom is not an ambitious person and did not plan to have as many stores as we have now. But she did want her own business while we, her children were growing up. She will tell you that she prayed for a business, and the Lord gave her the opportunity and circumstances, and she just followed it up.
Now let me tell you about how we got our names. The first store was named KORBEN Gifts from the first syllables of the names of my mom and dad- CORit and BENny. When we were young we joked that we should also have a store with our names: PAtsy, PEggy, MELdy, RObert, and TIna. Although my dad said this would not be successful because nobody would remember the name or even pronounce it, the name stuck.
Our family business started as a hobby of my mom. Even today it is one of her greatest joys to make something out of things people would usually throw away. Back then, when I was young, she would make our clothes and then with the scrap cloth she would make stuffed toys and sells these. She is very matiyaga (industrious and patient). She would fashion small gifts and toys for the sack of a miniature Santa; she would make Goldilocks and the three bears, etc. She would make a piggy bank out of a Clorox bottle, Christmas décor out of eggshells and felt scraps, a country doll out of toilet paper rolls. Today she is still doing the same thing and routinely salvages things thrown around and makes things to sell like wreaths and topiaries.
Being in business is not just about making money but it is more an expression of yourself- what you believe in, what you want to share with others, what you are, your values and your ideas. Ideally, it should express the best of you.
How Papemelroti started
I remember our first store along Tomas Morato. The building is still there. Like I said, we lived on the second floor, and my mom would make things, and sell it in the store below. The customers would have to ring the doorbell and at the start, only the window display was filled with things. The rest of the store was empty. My mom and dad didnt borrow any money to set up the business or to make it grow. Their motto was: Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, its a cinch. Our growth was relatively slow, but I think, comparatively painless and the mistakes not fatal.
Little by little, our store got filled up. My mom learned to buy from wholesalers. My daddys joke then was "Be brave, buy three".
I also remember that my dad started buying samples from the States and Europe. We would get very excited opening these boxes and crates. Glassware from Germany, clocks from the States, miniature animals from Austria, Christmas décor from the States. These were some of my favorites.
My dad also imported molds and kits from the States and they started experimenting with making ceramics, making figurines and decoupage, and using local materials.
When we built our house in Tierra Pura and moved there, one of the carpenters wanted to continue working for my dad, so my dad taught him to make recipe boxes, candle holders, shelves and racks. This was the start of our woodworking.
Then when it was difficult to import, we concentrated on making our own things. Although we were still young, we were already involved in the business. We used to paint figurines and plaques and get paid .05 or .10 (Philippine centavos) for each, and I would make maybe P1.50 for one day. This we would use to buy candy from the sari-sari or to buy miniature stuff and toys in our own store. We couldnt get things for free. Even now we dont get a special discount in our stores, but at least now we have a discount card like some of our other customers. If you accumulate P5000 worth of receipts, you can apply for a privilege card, which gives you a 5% discount.
Growing up with Papemelroti
We learned the value of work at an early age, the satisfaction of earning our own money, and seeing the things we make, sell. Were a very close knit family. We do things together. We have sculpting sessions- making originals of animals, people, some of the figurines we sell at our shop.
One of the things we make up to now is decoupage. This is an old French art of making paper seem like part of the wood you are decorating. Now we dont have to do this ourselves but before we used to do this as a family. We tried to make plaques look really old, using hammers and nails, screwdrivers, etc. My sister Meldy who was so young then used to be so masigasig (industrious) at pounding at the wood. It was so funny because her plaque sold first.
Our wholesale business started when a storeowner from Makati came to the shop and became interested in our deformed figurines. She ordered a dozen of each kind and after that we supplied other stores in MM. These figurines were deformed because my mom hadnt perfected her way of making molds. However when the figurines we made looked more professionally made, this store in Makati stopped ordering from us!!
My mom who also was the salesperson in our store made a lot of friends. Sometimes Id see her enjoying siopao and coke with some of her customers when Id come home from school. One of these customers told her that if she put up a shop in a commercial area, she would have more customers. Thats when she got the idea of opening in Ali mall in 1976. Ali Mall was the first mall and Muhammad Ali came over to inaugurate it. There was the hugest cake in the center of the lobby and everybody got a piece.
Our store was on the second floor, and since it was summer, we were the ones manning the store. Peggy and I would take turns with the cash register. Meldy would sell. My sister Tina, who was 7 years old, would wrap the gifts. She couldnt reach the counter so shed wrap on the floor and the customers would look at her in dismay. Kaya na ba niya? (Can she do it?)theyd ask. But Tina already had plenty of experience with wrapping in our first store. Robert would draw on these little wooden figures and after he finished it, he would put it on a shelf to sell.
Ordinarily, a store on the second floor would hardly get noticed right away, but a lady wrote about us in Womens magazine (three pages). Because of that we would get customers who would go to the front of the store, look at our sign, and recite our names: Patsy, Peggy
Since then we have been written about so many times. We havent needed to solicit these write-ups. We even have been written about twice in Asia magazine and we got export orders from those.
After some years, the shops in the second floor of Ali mall started losing money & closing, and we were the only one left. We were wondering what would happen as Ali Mall had plans of putting a dept. store there. This turned out to be a blessing as Mrs. Roxas, one of the owners of Araneta Center, who was a customer of ours, told the management to take care of us. We were given a better and bigger space in the ground floor.
At this time also, we were asked to vacate our space in Tomas Morato. My mom was worried for a while but this proved to be a blessing because by now we could afford our own place and we found the house along Roces Ave.
Now we see that these setbacks were Gods way of prodding us to grow, we had more space for production, for stocks, for selling, and we could also hire more people.
Although this is a sharing about business, I want to be honest with you and say that prayer has always been and is a part of the way we do business. We believe that God is really a working partner of our business. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 it says: We are Gods fellow workers. Even though we dont advertise, we have write-ups in magazines, we get featured on TV and radio. He guides us where to open or when not to open. We were invited to open a branch in SM City before the EDSA revolution. The economy was bad and we were wondering what to do- export, immigrate?? But when we prayed the Lord gave us a sense that we should open in SM City. We did, and that is one of our best branches today.
When we were invited to have a store in Harrison plaza, the sense we got after prayer was that we should not open. So we didnt. The next year there was this huge fire that destroyed a major part of the mall. Before we opened in Robinsons Galleria, we prayed and the message we got was that we should open there, only if we are willing to work hard. True enough, that store needs a lot of working on!
God Given Talents
Even in designing, we acknowledge that the quite unique talents we have for drawing and designing come from the Lord. When Peggy read this, sabi niya, hindi unique (she said it wasn't unique. I told her na ipinagmamayabang ko hindi yung talents, kundi si Lord (I'm not boasting about the talents, but the Lord) . We enjoy our business a lot because it is exciting to create something and see other people appreciate it enough to buy it. I know these ideas come from God. To make this more concrete, I once had a beautiful dream of all these plants in pitchers and pots on shelves on the wall. The next day I was inspired to draw several of what I saw in the dream and we made wall décor out of this. It turned out a very nice collection and my mom said to me, "Dream some more."
In June, we had an exhibit in Ayala museum showcasing our drawings, which weve made into writing pads, postcards, cards, and other stationery. Robert my brother has made a name for himself designing books for Bookmark, amusement centers like Glico in Quad and Eureka in Mega mall, stores like Filipino bookstore, etc.
ThemesId like to tell you about the three prevalent themes in our products and in the way we do things which reflect our culture and our vision as a family.
As I said before, your business should be an expression of yourself, this includes your values. When you go into business someday, be sure not to be like some business people who claim to be Christians but when it comes to their business or their work, they follow a different set of laws. Dont be Christians only on a Sunday.
We are a Christian family and we want to impart Christian values not only in the things we sell but also in the way we do business. We believe this is not really our business but Gods business. He is the one who allowed it to grow, who provided the talents and the inspiration and the vision that has made papemelroti what it is today.
We believe we should feel good about being Filipino and that we should be committed to the success and prosperity of our country. Before it was so hard to buy Filipino themed T-shirts that you would be proud to wear. It was usually the traditional jeepney with the bamboo lettering. My brother was one of the first to design Filipino T-shirts that were non-traditional and now good designs are all over the place.
The environmental thrust of papemelroti is not actually separate from the Christian and Filipino themes. We promote environmental awareness because we believe God created this earth not so we can just use it as we want to, but so we may enjoy its beauty.
Many of the products we sell at papemelroti have minimal impact on the environment. Yung materyales na ginagamit namin ay hindi nakakasira sa ating kalikasan o kapaligiran. (The materials we use don't destroy our environment. We use recycled wood, wood from crates that are used to bring in elevators or big car parts- this is what we use to make our furniture, and also our shelves, frames, desk accessories.
Were also one of the first if not the first in the Philippines to use recycled paper for our stationery. We started to do this in 1976 when we opened in Ali Mall. At first we just liked how it looked- earthy, natural. Some people would ask why we were using this for cards- pambalot ng pan de sal (bread wrapper), theyd say. Today it is very popular and there are more and more who use this for stationery items.In our business, I like to believe that at the very least, we make people happy. When somebody gives a gift from us, we hope the recipient will like it. We also help create an environment people will want to live in, to enjoy coming home to after a hard day at work.
COMPANY WITH A MISSION AND VISION
We also want to educate and instruct. We have journals available on environmental awareness, about Christian values, about crafts like rubber-stamping and handmade paper making which we give out free at the stores.
We believe that we are a showcase of the talents, skills and designs capabilities of the Filipino. The Filipino is very talented- but most of our good decorative accessories are exported and we don't see it here. When we started this business, the handicraft that was sold were the ones you see sa ilalim ng tulay (at the bottom of the Quiapo bridge) - shellcraft, basketry, the usual carvings from Baguio, etc. But we know that with the success of our business, more and more entrepreneurs have been inspired to set up their own business like ours and have come up with better and better designs for our indigenous handicrafts.
The most important mission we have is to inspire people to do better, to be nicer, to be kinder, to love more, and to make each day count. Thats why theres no negative humor in our stores, even if it will sell, why we have plaques and posters about prayers, good character, prayer, perseverance. We want more people to know about Gods love and faithfulness.
After my sister Meldy graduated she wanted to work first in another company. She kept applying but she couldnt get a job. Meanwhile she was working with us in Korean but she wanted to quit because she had a difficulty dealing with my mom. One day she heard a mother talking to her daughter in the store. The mother was showing her daughter this figurine and said: "I gave your dad this figurine and his life changed." The figurine had her arms up and the words were: Work for the Lord, the pay isnt much but the retirement plan is out of this world. After this she decided not to quit. She thought: We must be doing something right in this business. When she decided this, that was when she got calls scheduling her for interviews. So God really meant for her to work in papemelroti.
Id like to end here with a word from the Bible. From my experience, the key to a successful business, indeed a successful, fulfilled life, is to make God a partner in whatever you do.
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.
And so we may dream and make plans and work hard. Just be sure that what you do is in line with Gods intents and purposes for your life. For each one of us, God has a dream, God has a plan. And it is really exciting to find out what that is, to work with God and to make it come true.
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