Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Three women and a green store

Three women and a green store
ECHOstore fruit of 3 women’s partnership
By Aileen Garcia-Yap
Cebu Daily News
May 31, 2010

It started with the power of three: three like-minded women, three principles.

Pacita “Chit”Juan, the mother of Figaro Coffee; Jeannie Javelosa, a curator and a yoga instructor; and Regina “Reena” Francisco, who's into history, culture, and the graphic arts came together in 2008 and established a store anchored on nurturing and sustaining the self, community and environment.

Juan, the retail expert of the three, said that they named the store ECHO for Environment, Community, Hope and Organization to fit the nature of their partnership.

“More than being a business, ECHOstore is first an organization that taps communities that are producing environment-friendly products using organic and natural ingredients and then provides a space where people can see it and buy it,” said Juan.

The three women used their own funds to get their plans started.

“We had to invest, but only a little because everything brought in was consignment from people whom we already have contacts with because we are users ourselves,” Javelosa said.

The first ECHOstore was set up in Serendra, Bonifacio Global City which according to Javelosa, is an upscale area. “

We decided to open first in that area because most of our market then belong to the higher end, from the A, B and upper C,” Javelosa said

She said that back then, only that market knew what organic products were and had the choice and purchasing power to buy and live healthy.

“That's the case then and we are trying to change that now with our programs and campaigns which we tied up with organized groups.”

These programs include ECHOteach, which aims to educate their partner communities through seminars, workshops and mentoring services on entrepreneurship, product development, branding, marketing, packaging and wellness.

ECHOdesign Lab is ECHOstore’s advocacy and CSR (corporate social responsibility) which is focused on helping product design and development of community products.

The three owners and other volunteers give their time and talent to marginalized or indigenous community’s product to help refine design, product development, visual identity and packaging.

“ECHOyoga is another program on wellness towards the healthy lifestyle. ECHO here now means Empowerment, Care, Health and Oneness. Through workshops and regular classes, the ancient teachings of yoga are presented in therapeutic ways (Yoga for cancer, Yoga for scoliosis and backpains) and for specially niche markets such as the absolute beginner, heavy big people, senior citizens and those injured,” Juan shared.

From a single outlet, they found themselves busy with five outlets such as an ECHOvillage in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Gondolas or mini ECHOstore in select outlets and offices, ECHOcafes in Le Bistro Vert Sustainable Foods in Makati City, Le Bistro Sustainable Coffees in Ninoy Aquino International Airport Arrival Areas terminals 2 and 3 and in selected Pagcor outlets.

“Our four other outlets are in the ground floor level of Ortigas Center, Shangri-la Hotel Makati’s Travel Box, Shangri-la Hotel Mactan’s Private Collection and just recently in Marriott Hotel Cebu City. We also have an ECHOyoga Community Center in Makati,” Juan said.

Juan handles marketing, Francisco acts as supervisor of retail store operations, and Javelosa acts as communications person. They have hired 10 people to help man store outlets.

“Because we also partner with like-minded companies like Shangri-la and Marriott here in Cebu, we are actually able to save on the manpower as these partners often have people already in place to man the outlets.”

Being an enterprise with a business model built on partnerships, Javelosa and Juan said that there is sustainability in what they're doing both as a business and as an advocacy.

Javelosa said that they're already partners with many non-government organizations, which often have beneficiary communities already producing eco-friendly products that they display in their store.

“We have partnership with Philippine Business for Social Progress and we also get supplies from Cebu's very own Barrio Luz community producing bags made out from tetra packs. So we're into that kind of arrangement but of course we also do quality checks and set standards before we allow them to display their products in our store and we always get the best,” Javelosa said.

Javelosa said that they plan to set up an ECHOdeli which is about helping community and regional food products.

“Siguro we will carry first 70-percent organic mix with 30-percent non-organic for a start,” she said.

Organic and eco-friendly home cleaning solution products will also soon hit the market under the ECHO brand in the third or fourth quarter of this year, said Javelosa.

(story also posted on the  PBSP in the Visayas Press Room page)