The story of Subida Souvenirs’ rise to prominence in the province of Negros Oriental is the story of how a young married couple—both artists—successfully blended native craftsmanship with sophisticated technology to turn a small souvenir shop into a buzzing social enterprise.
“We were nothing before the laser cutter,” said Michael Alano, who owns Subida Souvenirs together with his wife January Alano.
Officially registered as a business in February 2015, Subida Souvenirs actually started in 2014 as a collaboration hub for artists, craftsmen and producers, specializing in such items as traditional children’s native toys and bamboo mugs. They only decided to set up a one-stop shop for tourists in the mountain town of Valencia when demand for their products picked up.
From then on, it was an uphill climb for Subida’s owners. They did not have much in terms of equipment yet—only a computer, some heat presses and graphics-related equipment, and some handicraft tools. They made do with just four workers, mostly part-timers. Their shop doubled as the retail store.
Things began to change dramatically when they approached the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for assistance in 2017. They applied for funding under the DOST’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP). The DOST Region VII approved their proposal for the acquisition of a laser cutting and engraving machine costing about P790,000.00.
The machine literally gave them the cutting edge needed for their business to become highly competitive.
Previously, the firm had no precision cutting and engraving capability. “The machine has helped us in our branding. With the machine, we have increased the number of our product lines by 400 to 500 percent. Now, our policy is to make a new product every week. We offer buyers variety, while making sure that the products are made of materials that are locally available and sustainable,” enthused Alano. “We can even make other tools, such as rulers and extensions for the bench grinder.”
The introduction of the technological innovation into the firm’s operations has enabled Subida Souvenirs to bag two awards—the Most Innovative Product Award during the Sandugo Trade Fair in Bohol in 2017, and the Most Creative Non-Food Product Award during the Department of Trade and Industry’s Regional One Town-One Product (OTOP) Fair in Cebu in 2018.
Both awards were shared with Jimson Macalua, a Guihulngan City-based bag weaver who collaborated with Alano in designing and making the products. Alano cites Macalua as an example of a local craftsman who has really benefited from Subida’s help. According to Alano, he had provided Macalua with a zigzag machine and a high-speed sewing machine in early 2017. “Now, Macalua has two sewing machines of his own, two motorcycles, and a beautiful comfort room.”
“Subida is a platform for craftsmen—they can make their products at home and sell these at Subida and get paid in cash right away,” Alano explained. “The platform removes the middleman, and allows the craftsmen to sell to top tier buyers.”
With increased revenues from the business, the Alanos invested in additional equipment, such as a thickness planer and a table saw for the main shop, and sewing machines and carving tools for the craftsmen. They established the Subida Training Center in the last quarter of 2018—their way of giving back to the community by giving interested people opportunities for skills development.
So far Subida has expanded its labor pool to 68 craft workers in the province, including the seven personnel at the firm’s main shop in Valencia. The craft workers come from Valencia and nearby places (Dumaguete City, Sibulan, Amlan, and Zamboanguita) as well as from afar (Guihulngan City, Bais City, Sta. Catalina, and Bayawan City). In Bais City, Subida even provided work opportunities for six deaf mutes (two female and four male).
This inclusive approach to business has earned for Subida a slot among 21 finalists in the 2019 BPI Sinag Accelerate Program. The program provides qualified social enterprises access to grants, business bootcamps, mentoring, networks and impact investors. If Subida makes it to the Top 10 this September, the enterprise will be awarded a cash grant plus access to bank financing.
Market-wise, the firm has established a more solid footing. From just one retail outlet in 2015, Subida now has three additional stores: two in different shopping malls in Dumaguete and one in Malatapay, Zamboanguita (a tourist jump-off point to Apo Island).
Michael Alano expects to have another local distribution channel when the Dumaguete City government opens a One Town-One Product (OTOP) Hub at the Rizal Boulevard later in 2019. But he and his wife are setting their sights beyond the local market. They aim to have their own outlet in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, Metro Manila by 2022. “We will give Kultura a run for its money,” declared Alano. (By Gilbert R. Arbon /July 24, 2019)