While a few Filipino CEOs see “no end in sight” just yet to the economic crisis brought about by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, they do see huge promise in a humble establishment that can be found on almost any street in the country: The “sari-sari” (variety) store.
In the online forum “The CEO Checklist for COVID-19” organized by Go Negosyo on April 16, Michael Tan, president and COO of LT Group, Inc. (Asia Brewery Incorporated, Eton Properties Philippines Inc., PMFTC Inc., Philippine National Bank, Tanduay Distillers) said one way to ease the transition from an enhanced community quarantine to a barangay-level one would be to bring essential goods closer to people—and the best way to do that would be to fully utilize sari-sari stores in each village.
“[The sari-sari store is] one of the smallest MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) units we have in the economy. Because of its limited capacity, it will carry only what’s fast-moving—what’s needed in the barangay,” Tan said. “People wouldn’t need to go to the wet market or grocery. The idea is to bring the goods to them, rather than have them go out.”
He added that although measures implemented by government, such as cash assistance, relief goods distribution, and rolling markets, have been a big help, the sari-sari store would still be the most efficient business unit that could get people to minimize their movement when buying the provisions they need.
“They would even know who in the neighborhood has good or bad credit, since they even have their own ‘pautang’ (loan) system,” Tan said. “So the suggestion is to allow distribution of goods to sari-sari stores, so people wouldn’t need to get out of their barangays.”
With their stores open, sari-sari owners would then be able to earn their own income again, and not just rely on financial aid given by government. The economy will also stand to benefit from such setup, Tan said.
“From what I’ve read, sari-sari stores contribute 13 percent to our GDP (gross domestic product)—that’s around P1.5 trillion,” he added. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Joining Tan during the discussion, which was moderated by Jeron Travel and Tours CEO Chal Lontoc, were fellow Universal Leaf Philippines Inc. CEO Winston Uy; Wilcon Depot founding chair William Belo; Bountry Fresh Food Inc. CEO Tennyson Chen; and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion. The business leaders talked about plans for their respective companies once lockdown measures become more lax and, eventually, are completely lifted.
They also gave advice to other business owners who are still trying to figure out what they need to prioritize when they restart their enterprises. The consensus: A leader’s priority in a crisis such as this should always be the people.
“This thing happened so quickly, that [CEOs] must be able to make their own checklist. And No. 1 on that list should be the health and safety of your people. If they are not confident about that, they will not go to work,” Uy said. “Health and safety, actually, is No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 on our list—and all the business processes will just follow after that.”
Tan also voiced his agreement, and gave examples as to how LT Group promptly responded to the pandemic: As early as mid-February, employees were asked to wear face masks and undergo thermal scanning at entry points, and elevator capacity was limited to six people at a time.
“We were also one of the first to do rapid tests. We have around 2,000 kits—PNB, PAL, our factories have it. We’ve also ordered another 10,000 of these kits that will come in two to three weeks’ time,” Tan said.
Ultimately, protecting one’s employees also means protecting one’s livelihood, Uy added.
“Livelihoods don’t happen overnight. All of us in this forum took a lifetime to build and grow our businesses in order to feed our families, and take care of our stakeholders. When livelihoods are lost, the social fabric that binds us together as a community is ruined, and when that breaks down, I don’t know how many more lives will also be lost,” Uy said.
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