MANILA, FEBRUARY 1, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Czeriza Valencia - In almost every barangay or barrio, there is a housewife who runs a humble sari-sari store.

In cities, her diminutive retail outlet stands frail and humble next to a branch of a mammoth supermarket chain, many times open until the wee hours of the night to sell cigarettes to taxi drivers who want to stay awake for their night shift or energy drinks to a student burning the midnight oil.

In a remote barrio, her lone stall opens before the break of dawn so people from nearby communities can buy things for breakfast. At nightfall, she lays out a wooden table and long benches in front of the store so men can drink and trade jokes under the stars after a long day’s work.

The ubiquitous sari-sari store is not just a convenience store but the embodiment of the spirit of the Filipino nanay: resilient in times of adversity, thoughtful of others’ need, and reliable in difficult times.

Unfortunately, many newly-opened sari-sari stores close down after only a few months of operation because of lack of financial and management savvy on the part of its owners.

For this reason, Sun Life Foundation partnered with non-government financial intermediary MicroVentures Foundation for the newest installment of their Hapinoy microenterprise development program dubbed as “Hapinoy Sari-Sari Store Program,” to teach mothers best practices in running a sari-sari store business.

“Our mission is to spread financial literacy and this is our way of going into the broad masses especially those who are venturing into small businesses. We are teaching them how to grow it and at the same time how to manage their finances,” said Sun Life Foundation executive director Joub Miradora.

This year, 557 mothers who own sari-sari stores in the provinces of Bulacan, Quezon, Naga and Laguna signed up for the program. Participants for the program were chosen based on their good moral standing in the community as legitimate business owners. Their areas should also be within reach of financing houses.

These mothers underwent six to eight months of training focused on business management and personal development. After this, they were given access to credit with partner financial institutions of MicroVentures to obtain capital for expansion.

Using their new capital, they were guided in the use of advanced selling techniques to sell high margin products.

“This is part of the development framework of Hapinoy. We see the development of sari-sari stores not as groceries but as 7-Elevens,” said MicroVentures executive director TJ Agulto.

Last Dec. 10, these nanays completed their financial training under the program. Now, equipped with the right tools and business network, they are now encouraged to share their new knowledge to other store owners in the area.

Industry studies have found out that an average sari-sari store closes after six to eight months of operation not just because of lack of capital for expansion but largely because of unsound business practices of its proprietors.

Many owners, for instance, fail to list down the expenses incurred in buying supplies as well as sales made during the day. Failure to retrieve credit extended to regular customers also put the sari-sari store in financial ruin because it cannot expand.

“Some people also tend to treat their stores as their refrigerator. They will borrow an item and then forget to replace it or list it down,” said MicroVentures Micro-Enterprise Incubation assistant manager Nicholas Geaga. “ So we teach them to instill the discipline in listing down the items that they buy from the store as well as those that they borrow.”

MicroVentures believes that despite its low profit margin, the sari-sari store is still a profitable venture.

There are around 800,000 sari-sari stores scattered all over the country. Together, these small retail outlets represent the biggest local trade network that provides opportunities for the expansion of distributor network of consumer goods.

Through training, the program aims to break the vicious cycle experienced by sari sari stores.

Sun Life Foundation and MicroVentures also recognizes the need to educate not just the nanays but also their spouses on the value of managing their personal finances in relation to running a business.

“The thinking action in managing finances is a joint effort between the wife and the husband. It would be difficult if the wife learns so much but the husband is not engaged in the idea, the action does not happen so fast if that is the case,” said Miradora.

Husbands are also encouraged to help their wives keep track of the expenses incurred in running a store as well as the occasional borrowings from supplies.

“We teach them to have constant communication. This is difficult for Filipino families because Filipinos do not like to talk about money. When a spouse is having financial difficulties, he or she just finds a way to resolve it without telling the other,” said Agulto.

Business owners are also encouraged to put their savings in formal financial institutions such as banks or investment instruments to make their money work for them.

For beneficiaries like 55-year old Remedios Gutierrez, a sari-sari store owner from Norzagaray, Bulacan, the program has taught her to have more discipline in running a business.

“I’ve also learned to become more friendly with customers and more patient with them especially with children,” she said.

After her husband passed away eight years ago, she set up her store with a capital of P1,500. Since joining the Hapinoy Program, she was able to increase her daily income to P2,500 from only under a thousand daily.

She is now expanding her business to include an Internet shop and making modest renovations in her home.

The great religious leader Mahatma Gandhi, once said this about the education of women: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.”

Imagine that.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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