Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Merlyn Francisco (Success Story)

Former fish vendor now exports paper mâché products

By Niña Catherine Calleja

Southern Luzon Bureau

PANGIL, Laguna -- When Merlyn Francisco, 50, lost her husband to lung cancer seven years ago, she felt her happy life was over.

Merlyn fell into a deep depression and never went out of their house. It seemed, according to her, that her family lost everything.

She shut down their paper mâché business, which has given them livelihood for 21 years, because of loneliness.

But two years later, in 2002, Merlyn snapped out of her stupor and decided to revive the business and their life.

Her family has been producing “basic brown” paper mâché products, which were later on transformed into decorated paper boxes.

Brimming with confidence, and support from a new business and life partner, Merlyn called on the exporters she used to deal with before to let them know she was back in business.

And what a comeback she did. From near scratch when she restarted the business, she now serves purchase orders amounting to millions of pesos from four exporters yearly.

In December last year, she was one of the chosen finalists of the 2006 Citygroup Micro-entrepreneur Award.

Rags-to-riches story

The Francisco family’s tale is a common rags-to-riches story. Merlyn was a fish vendor in the market while her husband Eleseo was a fisherman and a part-time tricycle driver.

“It was very difficult. We had to make both ends meet with so little money,” she said in Filipino.

With seven children, Merlyn said their life became more difficult as the family grew bigger.

When the volume of fish caught from Laguna de Bay dropped due to overfishing and pollution, she decided to look for another work.

In Paete, Laguna, a nearby town that is known for sculpture and handicrafts, she landed a job at a small paper mâché enterprise.

She toiled as a worker there for four years, learning the paper mâché trade and knowing the buyers and exporters.

She resigned in 1986, returned to Pangil, and used whatever she had saved to set up her own paper mâché business.

From humble beginnings, the business grew slowly until 1990, when orders suddenly got bigger. That trend went on for about six years and enabled her, in fact, to employ members of around 30 families in her community.

Business was good she was also able to buy a van and a house and lot for the family.

But a big problem came her way when Eleseo fell ill and was diagnosed to have cancer. It was the most difficult time of her life and of the business.

Merlyn said soaring medical expenses eventually took a toll on their finances, forcing her to sell some of their properties including the van.

Worse, a buyer reneged on a P500,000 worth of orders, eventually leading her to bankruptcy. Eleseo died in 2000.

That’s when Merlyn shut down the business and fell into depression. “We had nothing. We could not borrow money from people since they knew we had no money and could not pay them back,” she recalled.

Until 2002 when she decided to rise up again. In the process of doing so, she met and fell in love with Ronnie Nolial, one of her workers. Ronnie is now her business partner.

A P5,000 loan the couple got in 2005 enabled them to expand the business. They now have 30 employees doing pattern-making, cutting, molding/folding, wrapping, drying, finishing touches and quality control.

They can also service a purchase order worth P400,000 in one month.

Ronnie said their edge against other paper mâché products is their products’ design and quality.

He creates the designs and samples they submit to exporters while Merlyn supervises the production.

“In this business you have to be creative. Usually, when we see beautiful products, we try to modify those and develop our own,” he said.

Even though their business is not really getting big profit, Merlyn and Ronnie still push through with it.

According to them, materials and labor costs account for about 60 percent of their total revenue.

For a product sold at P82, P50 is the cost of materials and labor and P32 will be their profit.

They also felt that their earnings dipped because of the rising cost of materials.

Ronnie shared that in 1993, a bundle of paper board cost them P160, but it has increased now to P1,080.

But still, they want to pursue the business because it is giving their neighborhood a livelihood.

“We don’t want them to be jobless. All of us are benefiting in this business,” Ronnie said.

In the future, they aim to increase their capital and expand the business.


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