Posted by: Ces | November 25, 2007

Volunteers helped build leading food firm

 by Ma. Cecilia L. Rodriguez

September 2007

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — “That’s a difficult question,” replied Mercedes Pelaez-Mejia, franchise director of SLERS Industries, Inc., when asked about the best business advice they got from Canadian business experts who volunteered to help small and medium-scale enterprises, or SMEs, prop up their ventures.

SLERS, a local food company, is a two-time recipient of a project grant from the Canadian Executive Services Organization-Business Advisory Project (CESO-BAP), a program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The business advisory project focuses on helping SMEs, like SLERS, bring in the profit by providing it with intensive, hands-on business training from retired business executives, who volunteer for CESO.

“The first time we were visited, they gave us technical advice on production efficiency. We really needed that because at that time we were setting up a bigger factory for our meat products,” Mejia said.

Then a year later, a retired executive of the company that makes the Campbell soup came over.

“He taught us the value of marketing. That I think was the best advice we got, because from that time on, we were on our way to expansion,” she said.

Mejia said the volunteer was really hands-on in trying to help SLERS become more successful.

“He ate with us, slept in our house, he was with us almost 24 hours a day,” Mejia said.

In return, the company owners treated him like a family member.

“Like he was one of the owners of the company,” she said, adding that as a family-run business, each member of the family works hard for the company.

Humble beginnings

Before it became a household name in Cagayan de Oro, SLERS was the idea of an enterprising mother, who just needed extra cash for her children’s needs.

Way back in the 60’s, the home of the Pelaez family would be filled with the mouth-watering aroma of a smoked country ham.

Mommy Fely, the family matriarch, would be seen scuttling in her kitchen, checking her kiln and glazing her much-loved ham with secret ingredients that she will later hand down to her children.

Weeks before Christmas in 1969, Mommy Fely found herself accepting bulk orders from family and friends, who wanted to give out her ham as special gifts or have it as the centerpiece of the Noche Buena celebrations.

This became the start of a successful cottage industry that Mommy Fely set up.

She chose the brand name SLERS for her popular meat products, which is really made up of the letters of her children’s names.

Soon enough, Mommy Fely opened a small processing plant for her meat products. The company began with only 10 workers at the plant, while the Pelaez children helped out in distributing the products to customers.

Today, SLERS directly employs 100 workers and counts three major outlets in the city.

Showcase

“It was all hard work for the family,” Mejia said of the growth that their company posted over the years. “And also because we listened to advice,” she quickly added.

The CESO-BAP was introduced to SLERS by the Department of Trade and Industry.

CESO-BAP partners with both public and private entities to identify its beneficiary SME.

Aside from the DTI, it also closely works with the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) to achieve its primary goal of addressing the needs of SMEs, with a long term vision of job creation and poverty reduction.

“We were lucky to have been chosen to be one of the recipient companies,” said Mejia, who played host to the two retired Canadian business executives who came one after the other.

“SLERS is one of our best accomplishments,” Snoogie Apolinario, CESO-BAP project information officer, said.

Apolinario closely monitored the impact of CESO-BAP to the company’s maturity.

“We considered SLERS as a showcase in improving production efficiency of SMEs,” Apolinario said.

According to its semi-annual project report, BAP provided assistance in niche marketing and distribution to SMEs like SLERS.

Prior to the deployment of chosen experts from Canada, the project evaluated the industry. The results of this evaluation determined what expertise a venture needs.

Then the business experts are fielded in.

The knowledge and experience of the Canadian volunteer should be appropriate to the industry where he or she will be deployed. The project funds the fare and allowance of the volunteer while the project beneficiary is responsible for his/her board and lodging.

“We ask the entrepreneur to accommodate the volunteer in their homes. That’s their counterpart in the project. That way, the trainee and the trainer will have enough time to interact and exchange ideas,” Apolinario said.

“In the case of SLERS, we saw a great leap in market development and sales when it adopted the aggressive sales and marketing strategy prescribed by our experts,” he said.

Among the bold moves adopted by the company was the infusion of P1 million for its plant expansion, specifically for its production of “chicharon” [crisp-fried pork skin or innards].

It also set up an Express Meals kiosk, where its meat products were sold — cooked or uncooked.

Best advice

“We eventually went into franchising and was successful in it,” Mejia said.

She said they followed what the volunteer expert had told them about — the best means to bring out SLERS products to the market is by setting up franchise stores.

“We called the franchise stalls ’Pica-pica’ and, aside from our famous ‘chicharon,’ we also introduced ready to eat nuts and sweets,” she said.

SLERS franchise stores were so successful that the company won the Franchiser’s Touch award given by the Association of Filipino Franchisers last year.

In answer to what makes a business really successful, Mejia said: “Sales do bring in the profit. And it’s still all about marketing. Customers should be able to easily find your products. How can you sell when you don’t bring your products out?”


Copyright 2007 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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