A long journey for ‘Sitsirya’ | mb.com.ph | Philippine News
Home  » Business » Business News » A long journey for ‘Sitsirya’

A long journey for ‘Sitsirya’

‘In our case, money is not the capital, but suppliers who trust us even if we just signed on a scratch paper for a pay when able arrangement. The real capital of a business is character and integrity. That is why I am not shy to get a loan, because I know how to pay my debt.’

Retailing has always been a Filipino expertise. Some foreign retailers are hesitant to come into the country because they believe they cannot compete with local retailers.

And just when we thought that retailing strategies have already been exhausted in this country, Eufracio C. Ocampo came up with a retailing innovation that concentrates on Filipino delicacies called ‘Sitsirya’, a generic term for local chips.

Eufracio  C. Ocampo    President and General Manager SITSIRYA SARI-SARI, INC.

Eufracio C. Ocampo
President and General Manager
SITSIRYA SARI-SARI, INC.

THE JOURNEY

Sitsirya is an initiative of the Ocampo couple. The husband though possessing  all the wit and candor of a marketing person admits to always cling to his wife for a more enlightened decision.

Thus the husband makes it a point to credit Sitsirya’s success to Era, not because she is the wife but largely because she is the voice of reason in their journey together. They are good match, Era is a pharmacist and Eufracio, a hotel and restaurant graduate. They are both products of the University of the Philippines.

“She is my conscience, she is into chemicals and me into food,” says Ocampo of his wife.

Ocampo refused to own the title CEO. To him CEO stands for Combined Effort Organization or Cooperative Effort Organization because no individual can do it alone.

“We will not become champion if we are individualistic. Teamwork is what makes the history of Sitsirya,” says Ocampo.

According to Ocampo, the couple had undergone several trials. He calls them the “dark ages” in their entrepreneurial journey. Their journey has been marked by ups and downs that it could pass for a good plot for a movie because it has all the ingredients such as horror, comedy, drama, sex, conspiracy, etc. to make it a blockbuster.

Thirty years ago, Ocampo was employed by a multinational company Olympia Business Machines. The company was about to launch its new computers in 1983 when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated causing the Philippine economy to its lowest ebb. Together with other foreign investors, his company closed shop. He lost his job. His wife also lost her job a month after.

Ocampo tried to make the story lighter, saying there were only two things that could save them from bankruptcy that time, either they rob a bank or sell drugs.

Seriously, he was considering going abroad because working abroad was still new and the pay was quite good as there was not much competition.

Era was not totally against it, but could only grudgingly approve to his OFW option. So, he stayed.

Since there was no other option left, he started his entrepreneurial pursuits. “If you are desperate you have to look for ways,” says Ocampo.

At first, he borrowed R10,000 to start his business “BURP” in a small space at a mall in Buendia where the couple sold some local sweets “kakanin” that they themselves prepared. Ocampo has some background on making ube halaya, barbecue, buchi, from his grandmother.

“I was so shy when we started because I used to be ‘japorms’ with a company car from my previous job and now I am selling kakanin, but God is good. He would dump you into the mud to humble you,” says Ocampo. Japorms is a popular term used in the 80s to describe persons who dressed up well.

But with a two-year-old kid to feed and send to school, he realized, his japorms had to take a backseat. “It was really difficult, I was fed up eating noodles, those were the dark ages of our life,” says Ocampo.

The first outing proved to be successful until the mall was gutted in 1985 and his  stall was relocated outside the burnt mall.

The couple persevered and even expanded when they found a new space at the corner of J.P. Rizal along Pasong Tamo where jeepneys used as a sort of a terminal and there was huge traffic because of the Sta. Ana race track.

“I immediately grabbed the opportunity and placed a reservation fee of R50,” recalls Ocampo.

“That was the start of a good business,” says Ocampo, who learned to saturate the nearby areas selling peanut adobo. Unfortunately, traffic rerouting had forced him to close one of his three peanut adobo stalls. One outlet had to be transferred also.

“We lost our two stalls that November, it was so sad a Christmas for us,” says Ocampo. But that did not dampen his spirit.

He expanded his BURP with additional items including hopia that brought him everyday to Divisoria Ilaya to pick up 100 to 150 packs of hopia. Stress caught up on him that at times, he suffered panic attack while in Divisoria.

Business was good that they were able to buy a second hand Tamaraw, the precursor of the FX, which was carnapped only to be recovered five years after in Pangasinan.

logo3

SITSIRYA

“The first 15 years of our business was filled with ups and downs, but it was necessary to make us strong,” recalls Ocampo.

In 2001, the Ocampo business had finally emerged from being an underground economy to an aboveboard operation. It registered with the Department of Trade and Industry. Since, they were selling chips, he could not think of any other name but Sitsirya Sari-Sari. Five years after, they were compelled to add Store on its business name for reasons he could not fathom.

Sitsirya has evolved into a form of a consolidator of the country’s favorite delicacies. Ocampo was able to establish some sources from all over the country from Piyaya to chicharon to tableya, providing micro or backyard producers a steady outlet for their produce.

Sitsirya started joining exhibits and fairs until Robinsons Malls noticed the startup as one with good potential. It was offered to locate in one of its malls in Manila.

“Robinsons was the first to give us a break,” says Ocampo, who always cherish and keep that gratitude to the Gokongweis no matter what concessions other malls may offer to them.

His wife, a stricter for business ethics, always reminds him to stay fair in dealing with their clients and partners and to always look back to those who helped them along the way.

PASALUBONG

Sitsirya also capitalizes on the Filipinos penchant for pasalubong or simply a gift that Filipinos give to someone, friends and loved ones or to bring home from a journey.

Pasalubong evokes nostalgia that Sitsirya decided to carry tagline, “We serve memories”. Its second tagline is “From the island … to the World”, which conveys a message that someday, they may go to foreign shores using the same strategy.

“Pasalubong is a Filipino tradition and we capitalize on that,” says Ocampo.

Childhood memories of “anak” waiting for “tatay” or “nanay” carrying that “balot or supot” in hand are etched in the minds of us “young once”.

 “The young ones now may be more familiar with the fast food lifestyle, but nostalgia aside, there is wisdom in having our little ones enjoy our authentic Filipino sweets, delicacies and pasalubong treats. Therefore, our standard store greeting is: ‘Pasalubong kay Bunso!,” says Ocampo. Bunso refers to a loved one from one-year old to 99-year old.

Sitsirya Sari-Sari , which began in 2001, ensures that this tradition lives on by bringing to you the best pasalubong, the Islands have to offer. It has now presence in more than 20 outlets.

Simply put, Sitsirya treats you with fond memories.

From a mere stall, Sitsirya has grown to become almost 200 SKUs. There were no more perishable goods though but they offer all sorts of sweets and delicacies from different provinces, showcasing the specialty of each region.

Sitsirya has over 20 suppliers from Mindanao, supplying them of fruit purees, concentrates, tableya and coco sugar.  One supplier even gets R60,000 per delivery and he delivers three times a week. He also helps suppliers by conducting free tasting activities in the malls to promote their products.

Sitsirya is deliberate in its decision to remain a retailer rather than as a manufacturer. Ocampo aims to carry a uniform brand of Sitsirya in all of its products soon.

FRANCHISE

With its experience in retailing, it was inevitable for Sitsirya not to entertain franchising queries. With the help of Francorp Philippines, there are now 20 interested parties including those in Davao City, but Ocampo is cautious.

Ocampo would rather have only one good franchisee than having 100 where 99 of them are a cause for headache. Despite the lure of money, Ocampo said they are not after quantity but the quality of its partners.

It has yet to open at least three to four experiential outlets in Davao City to validate its success before a full franchise can be sealed. “There is no substitute to firsthand experience,” says Ocampo noting the new Davao outlets may be opened in major Davao City malls.

They have also registered its trademark with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

Sitsirya’s expansion has a deeper meaning now as the couple is dedicating this for their only child, who they want to succeed a well-documented business.

As such, Ocampo is professionalizing its day to day operation. It has been a good taxpayer by getting a good accountant to ensure they do not miss out on their obligations. Sitsirya has also its own research and development division.

An occasional speaker of the Department of Trade and Industry for its micro, small and medium enterprises, Ocampo does not only talk about marketing strategies and his company’s success, but he would give tips on how an enterprise should price its merchandize.

Sitsirya now offers 12 different packages and gift packs that a client can choose from. All they do is mix and match the content for their chosen box and hand carry it in the airplane. Its most affordable pack is the R20 worth Pasalubong Para kay Bunso. They have boxes for R70 to R300 depending on the contents.

Sitsirya aims to be one of the leading one-stop shop for good quality Philippine-made sweets, delicacies and “pampasalubong” products, at reasonable prices.

“Our multi-purpose gift box is unique and original. It offers customers hassle-free ideas for pasalubong,” says Ocampo.

They also invested in their own packaging to present a more engaging product in gift boxes.

But what is more important is they have tasty, quality, and safe products.

“That is the secret of our products,” he adds.

LESSONS LEARNED

Along the way, Ocampo has learned that in business it pays to keep your word.

“Integrity is important because this is just a small world, do not risk your reputation by not keeping your word,” says Ocampo.

“In our case, money is not the capital, but suppliers who trust us even if we just signed on a scratch paper for a pay when able arrangement. The real capital of a business is character and integrity. That is why I am not shy to get a loan, because I know how to pay my debt.”

He does not seek for so much profit, three percent is already enough or even a break even would suffice.

His weakness is that he swears, but stresses he has an ulterior motive for doing so. “Not that I have a dirty mouth but I have an ulterior motive because I want them to be strong and alert,” says Ocampo, who employs 45 direct workers, mostly armed with high school education. Now, some of its original workers have been able to send their children to college.

“It feels good for being able to help these parents send their kids to college,” says Ocampo, a former Jollibee outlet manager.

He looked up to Henry Ford and Jollibee’s Tony Tan Caktiong for their innovation and determination to succeed. “Despite their age, they do not stop at reinventing themselves,” says Ocampo.

While he refused to say that Sitsirya is already successful, but quality is what makes them tick. One thing more, he learned to be frugal. Sitsirya remains at their house where all of its operations are done.

To the new entrepreneurs, he would say, “Consider problems as opportunities to make you stronger. Maintain certain standards for your product and packaging, keep the right people and comply with basic requirements of the law. We have people who grow with us because we do not make a fool out of them. We do not have endo.”

FUTURE

Ocampo shares his aspirations to be a bigger player in the country with an ASEAN presence five years from now.

“Success is not an end but a day to day thing, we strive for success every day because it is a journey, not a destination,” adds Ocampo.

Most of all, Ocampo says, he always maintains an open communication line with his staff.

“We always do it together,” says Ocampo but admits that his wife is the decision maker.

He does not consider themselves rich but are contented enough to be able to live comfortably, travel once in a while and be able to enjoy a few luxuries in life.

“All our 45 workers are like our children that is why we have a strict code of discipline,” says Ocampo noting that their workers all stay in an apartment inside their compound with very minimal rent.

Once a week they have fun time together where workers entertain their fellow workers as Sitsirya’s unique form of training to their employes to deal with customers and to face life in general.

As a child, Ocampo used to sell “kropek” to his classmates until such time that he was caught by his teacher. During Valentine’s Day, he smuggled heart shape cutouts for sale. Little did he know that those were already his marketing training.

Sitsirya tells of a couple’s journey through thick and thin, of a couple’s faith that when some doors closed this will lead to the opening of more appropriate doors.

Looking back, the Ocampos view their journey in a lighter mode and even make fun out of it. It’s one for the books.