From garage business to global store supplierBy Aileen Garcia-Yap
Cebu Daily News
What started as a “garage” business in 1985 selling locally made fashion accessories has grown into an international export company supplying global retail stores.
Jose R. Soberano III and his wife Marose decided to open a small buy-and-sell business with the help of relatives in the United States as their direct sales agents.
For their workplace, they used their garage at home in Mountain View, barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City.
“We were just married at the time. Since we were both more inclined to doing business, we decided to start small. We chose fashion accessories because at that time the U.S. market was very attractive,” said Soberano.
They called their business AB Soberano International Corp. and focused on fashion items made of local materials like coconut shells, tree bark and leaves.
From buying finished items, they ventured into making their own pieces. They hired a designer and production crew.
“We started then with eight people to help us with the business. We grew to 600 people,” he said.
Being bullish about the export industry, Soberano and his team decided to be more visible in the market. They started to join local and international trade shows, which paved the way for them to meet more clients.
While they had direct access to the U.S market through relatives, they thought of stepping up their own marketing to open a bigger door of opportunity for their brand.
True enough, they met scouts from Marks & Spencer, Espera and retail giant Walmart and more.
Five years later, they ventured into manufacturing home accessories and souvenir items which were in demand by customers abroad.
The size of operations outgrew the house garage. In in 2004, they bought a property along Salvador Extension in Labangon, Cebu City which now houses a production plant and showrooms as well as office space for their other businesses in real estate and manpower recruitment.
While business has been good in the past years, exports slowed down following the 2008 global economic crisis that hit the United States and Europe.
The couple refused to give up . Top cope, they put in place measures to keep the business running even with lower orders. Personnel operated on shifts to minimize laying off workers.
“We used to have about 600 people, now we’re down to about 300 people for the production because of lower orders. Some of them operate on shifting hours. That’s our way of mitigating the situation and ensuring that they still earn a living and put food on the table,” said Soberano.
While their main market is in the U.S. and Europe, they don’t rely solely on these areas.
“We are not totally dependent on these markets. We also have clients in Japan, Australia, some parts of South America, Maldives and other countries,” said Soberano.
Despite the present difficulties, Soberano said they want to be ready when the export industry does a full rebound.
New opportunities opened for them lately after some exporters closed shop, driving clients to look for other suppliers
“The market is also telling us that the trend in indigenous and organic materials in fashion accessories will be coming back and we are very ready for that. That has been our niche. We’ve always been known for that,” Soberano said.
In the next five years, the company aims to focus on the mid-market, a segment projected by many economists to be the segment to expand in the coming years.
“That again is our niche. We have always been serving the mid- market so we are positioning ourselves to be ready for that,” said Soberano.