Product innovation, moving business online more crucial during pandemic

A manufacturer and exporter of sustainable goods has innovated its product offering and moved its business online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Taking a pivot –a drastic change from what we have at the moment which are non-essentials as of this time. You know, housewares, lamps, lighting, these are called non-essentials. So we have new products that are relevant in the current need and that we should be able to answer that need,” Lolita Cabanlet, founder and chief executive officer of Oro Handmade Innovations Inc., said in a webinar.

Cabanlet shared that her company started making face masks made of abaca paper which have huge demand during the pandemic. The market, however, declined as more businesses engaged in mass production of these products.

Cabanlet said she then emailed all her buyers and proposed to them to do product design and development.

“So we were busy with creating designs and executing and having their (buyers) approval.” she said. “Had we not done this product development while in isolation, we couldn’t have had these products that we are marketing today.”

“If you are looking for new designs because you cannot get stuck up in the past because your product can either be obsolete or outdated, you need creative designs and you can go to the Design Center of the Philippines…,” she added.

As the business moved online, Cabanlet underscored the importance of having a “good website” where buyers would look at its product offerings as firms strengthen their brands.

She said companies need to be active in social media like Facebook and Instagram apart from having a website.

Amid the pandemic, she said her company also participated in virtual international trade shows with the assistance of the Center for International Expositions and Missions (CITEM).

CITEM Is the export promotion arm of the Department of Trade and Industry.

“You have to apply, how can you qualify to join a virtual trade show? The first they look for is your website and see your photos because in virtual trade shows, our capital now is our photos because there are no actual products that a buyer can catch or validate so we have to have very good photos,” she added.

Cabanlet, president of Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (PHILEXPORT) Region 10-A Chapter, said products of trade fair exhibitors have to be different, noting “you have to come up with something that stands out because there are so many competitors.”

“In terms of the expanse and the width of the market reach, (it) is really amazing in the virtual show which I didn’t really expect,” she added.

Cabanlet said a company needs to have a team that will immediately respond to inquiries of prospective buyers.

“After the trade fair, what’s most important again is the follow-through, inquiries will be wasted if you do not do a follow-through, follow-up,” she said.

To successfully transform business to digital, Cabanlet advised entrepreneurs to also collaborate and innovate.

“The innovation portion is actually giving you another life everytime you innovate because it is said that if you don’t innovate, you die,” she said.

Cabanlet also urged them to visit the CDO small business information portal where companies can learn how to participate in virtual trade shows and become an exporter.

The portal has also a module on business recovery plan which a government financial institution requires from firms when they apply for working capital and additional loan, she said.

“Even if you don’t intend to apply for a loan, it is very helpful to have your own business recovery plan so that you and our staff are in one set of mind in terms of direction,” she added.

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