“From just nail polish, we now carry makeup, cologne, lotion, sun protection and skincare, shoes, lingerie, and novelty products like face paint,” says cosmetics tycoon Mr. Dioceldo S. Sy. “No foreign brand has this kind of range.”
Maybe because few entrepreneurs have Mr. Sy’s daring vision.
In crisis, there is opportunity
In 1983, the country was plunged into an economic crisis. Interest rates and consumer prices skyrocketed, driving away entrepreneurs and investors. But what others called a “business vacuum” Mr. Sy chose to interpret as an “open field of opportunity.”
He was just 25 years old, and had just finished a stint with Western Industrial Corporation, a cosmetic company. Though he had tried other jobs (including buying and selling promotional items and real estate), he wanted to work for himself — and do it well.
“I was young, but I didn’t see that as an obstacle. I had my whole life ahead of me, and I would use it for a worthwhile purpose. If I was going to dream, I would dream big,” he said.
Start with your strengths—and put everything into them
Mr. Sy knew that in a delicate economy, he had to make very calculated risks. That’s why he advises aspiring entrepreneurs to “Start with your strengths.” He leveraged his experience in the cosmetics industry to start Ever Bilena. He invested P150,000—his entire life savings—into his first product, the Ever Bilena nail polish.
As expected of any new business, the first months were very rough. He used his uncle’s warehouse in Howmart Road, Quezon City for his office. He only had four people, himself, sister, driver and helper. Unable to penetrate the department stores, he sold his products at bazaars and wholesale mart.
Mr. Sy was not discouraged. “I started from scratch, so I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said. In the same year, he met Mr. Adam Chiang. The timing was perfect. The Taiwan businessman was looking for Philippine cosmetics buyers; Mr. Sy needed suppliers.
This is an important secret to business, says Mr. Sy. “Form good alliances and contacts that benefit both your objectives.” It helps you gather enough resources to succeed even in a supposed economic crisis.
Armed with determination, a solid business vision and strategy, Mr. Sy was able to lead the company to unexpected levels of growth. He introduced Ever Bilena eyeshadow, blush on, and various cosmetic collections. From 1985 to 1986, sales growth tripled. Ever Bilena was on its way to becoming a household brand.
Support your growth
Seeing the success of the nail polish, Mr. Sy decided to further expand the Ever Bilena product line to include foundation, compact powder, lipsticks, and eye pencils. He found excellent suppliers from all over the world: France, Italy, Australia, USA. “Two of our bestsellers, our eye liner and eye pencil, are sourced from Germany. They’re cult favorites, even among the most demanding makeup experts.”
In 1986 (just 3 years after the company was established) Ever Bilena was able to penetrate the Metro Manila department stores: Robinsons, Fargo, MWF, Syvel’s.
Mr. Sy also hired 3 beauty consultants, who made the rounds of their counters at Uniwide Avenida, Hortaleza Vaciador, Isetann Cubao and Cherry Foodarama (Shaw). “We believe that you don’t sell beauty products, you sell the experience of being beautiful,” says Mr. Sy. “Customers need to know how to choose the best item for them and learn how to use it.”
He adds that one reason many women were drawn to Ever Bilena is that makeup was no longer intimidating. “The products are easy to match with the Filipina skin tone, they are affordable, and the beauty consultants are friendly.” This started with Ever Bilena’s tagline “that looking good is no longer a luxury.” Today, the company has 601 beauty consultants nationwide dedicated to customer care.
By the 1990s, Ever Bilena was providing not just total customer care (number of beauty consultants ballooned to 100), but a complete beauty line. It launched new lipstick variants (like the mini lipstick and magic lipstick), pearl creams, liquid foundations, and mascara. The product had also passed the high standards of SM Department Stores.
“Just 7 years after we had sold our first bottle of nailpolish, Ever BIlena products were being sold nationwide in all major department stores and specialty beauty stores,” says Mr. Sy.
Don’t lose sight of your key competencies
However, the company had to hurdle more challenges. In 1997, Mr. Sy had taken a dollar loan to support business expansion. When the Asian crisis hit the Philippines, the peso dropped, and interest rates doubled. Mr. Sy had to steer his company through very treacherous waters. Instead of expanding the company, he shifted his focus to building its existing strengths. This let him improve the products’ quality, while still streamlining expenditures.
For example, Mr. Sy maximized his limited marketing budget on TV slides on carefully selected time slots. He got celebrity endorses like Rosanna Roces, Sunshine Cruz and the Sex Bomb Dancers (for make up) and Melanie Marquez and Isabel Granada (for nailpolish) and explored non-traditional efforts like “baratillos.”
He also learned an important lesson. “Some products like shampoo, lotion and astringent didn’t do well,” he said. It reaffirmed the importance of quality and focus. “I decided that if we couldn’t give a superior product, we wouldn’t do it at all.”
Mr. Sy also decided to compress his makeup lines. He had launched a second cosmetics brand, Czarina, which targeted the middle to high end market. But with the economic crisis and drop in consumer spending, it was prudent to cut back and preserve the flagship, Ever Bilena. “It was not the time to divide resources,” he said.
Ready to go Global
By the year 2000, Ever Bilena had not only weathered the economic crisis, but was ready to enter the bigger game of competing against the global brands. Mr. Sy also started improving the organizational structure and support systems, and ordered an aggressive marketing campaign. “We already had an excellent product. We just had to let the market know what was available.”
Ever Bilena’s battle cry was “superior quality at affordable prices.” The company has won several awards, including Watson Philippines Supplier of the Year, Watson’s Cosmetic Make-up Brand of the Year for 2006-2007, Consumers’ Union of the Philippines, and Best Cosmetic Manufacturer among other awards.
The next step for the company, says Mr. Sy, is to build its direct selling mechanisms. ‘We have always been a company that empowers women to be beautiful. Now, we want to help them become financially secure, by selling our products to augment their income. They can dream big. After all, dreams are what started this company in the first place.”