Lockdown Economy Philippines in a Pottery Business with Daniel Ubas and Viktoria Laguyo

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Daniel Ubas and Viktoria Laguyo, the founders of Krete Manila, a pottery business in Marikina. In 2016, Daniel and Victoria established Krete, a local brand that offers hand-made cement crafts. Pre-pandemic, the two managed Krete offline and most of their sales came from physical stores. By the time the quarantine was imposed when people could not really shop offline, the business expanded its online presence. Surprisingly their online sales went great and Krete Manila continued to flourish.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Can you tell us the history and profile of Krete Manila?

Daniel: Krete Manila is a local brand that specializes in handmade items using cement as its main material. Viktoria and I have been practising our craft since 2016 and we started selling products part-time in 2017. In 2019, we became an official full-time business based here in Marikina City. The company is made up of Viktoria and myself. We are the makers of all the items you see in Krete Manila.

What is the advocacy that this business stands for?

Viktoria: We want to keep Filipino craftsmanship alive in our generation. We started to become makers ourselves. We became craftsmen. Kami na lang. Sino ba naman ang magsismula kundi kami?

So Krete Manila advocates for Filipino craftsmanship focusing on concrete arts, is that so?

Daniel and Viktoria: Yes!

Let me ask, how is Krete Manila doing during the pandemic?

Daniel: During the pandemic, we did struggle because we lost some consignments. Since people were no longer going to malls and stores to buy products, we had to let go of some consignments to cut down on costs. We started focusing on our online sales. To our surprise, we were able to grow our online sales better than we thought. So far, okay naman kasi we’ve been surviving for the last nine months. Growing naman ang business kahit papano.

Krete Manila operates mostly offline. Are you an online business?

Daniel: We are an online business, but most of our sales come from physical stores where we are consigned and from when we do bazaars. That’s when people get to come and view our products, experience and appreciate them firsthand, and buy on the spot. With the online platform, customers do not have a feel of the product so they are not able to have the same buying experience. We’ve always been focused on our consignments and selling at bazaars, but at this time we were able to grow our online sales since everybody has been shopping online.

Now that you are predominantly online, what are the strategies you have utilized to stimulate the business and attract more customers?

Daniel: Mostly, the products we develop are posted and promoted in all our social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, people started approaching us for projects and buying whatever we have on hand.

During the pandemic, Krete Manila, unfortunately, had to stop its operations and help medical frontliners. Daniel and Viktoria, tell us something about your donation drives during the start of the pandemic.

Daniel: When the pandemic hit in March, we decided to stop our business. We took a break until the end of April. Initially, this was done for safety reasons. We also had a feeling that people would not be focused on buying home accessories because it’s not a priority especially during a pandemic. We chose to stop and just rest.

Then, we saw that a lot of hospitals were in need of face shields so we thought, “Why not put our time into good use?” We thought of producing face shields, started researching the costs and how much it would take to make one face shield, and who could help us. We decided to do a donation drive. To our surprise again, we got almost forty thousand pesos in donations. We decided to put together a team from our neighbourhood since we’re all in lockdown and we’re sure none of us have the coronavirus. Luckily, my partner Viktoria is also my neighbour. I also have cousins who live in the same neighborhood. We gathered the team and developed a system where one person handles the cutting and another doing the adhesives and assembly. I have an uncle who did the deliveries since he had a quarantine pass. We were able to put together a team that produced almost two thousand face shields to be donated to hospitals that need it.

That is very innovative with many helpful people! Daniel and Viktoria, tell us how your customers and competition are doing right now?

Viktoria: Right now since everyone is at home, there are a lot of people engaged in home decorating and making their homes look a bit nicer kasi nga you’re not going out and you don’t get to see beautiful things. Most people are taking the time to decorate their houses. For example, there are a lot of Plantitas buying our pots and people buying our display trays for their tables and office desks.

In general, how is your business doing right now?

Daniel: Fairly well, better than we expected from when the lockdown started! Initially, we were worried about it, but people still supported local businesses which was great for us.

#supportlocal yes! What are you planning to do in the coming months? I’m also curious, what is the “12 Days of Kretemas”? Great wordplay! Tell us about it and how it stimulated your business.

Daniel: This past year has been terrible for a lot of people and we wanted to make things a little bit better by doing some giveaways. We came up with twelve giveaways for our “12 Days of Kretemas”. In order to participate, you have to tag three people in the comments section of our social media. It spread like wildfire and served as additional marketing for us. It’s a win-win situation. We get to give back while gaining new followers and more viewers and clients. In the responses, we’ve been getting a few more and inquiries and projects so it’s been good for us.

After the holiday season, what are your business plans?

Viktoria: We plan to focus on small bulk orders, such as 50 to 100 pieces, as well as the business of weddings. Weddings are getting a bit more intimate, so it’s easier to produce slowly-made items like our products.

Daniel: Yes, it’s easier to make smaller orders. Last year, we were targeting corporate gifts so we were able to produce between two hundred pieces to one thousand pieces for corporate giveaways. However, this year with smaller and more intimate events, we are targeting smaller projects and bulk orders.

This past year has been a time of struggle for everyone, especially businesses. Can you name three things that you need help with in terms of managing Krete Manila?

Viktoria: Online marketing. We also need help with creating content for our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Daniel: Viktoria and I are both designers so we’ve never been in marketing before. Marketing plays a big factor for us and would help our sales. I also mention needing financial help so that we can grow our manpower. Right now Viktoria and I handle everything, especially the production and social media. It’s just the two of us at the moment. We can’t hire the help we need because of financial challenges, but if we had that support we would be able to grow.

If you are addressing your potential customers, can you tell them why they should choose Krete Manila?

Daniel: Choose Krete Manila because, one, our items are one of a kind. No matter how consistent our production is, working with concrete still creates a different shade or texture which has a very good aesthetic value. Two, because we are local and I think supporting local businesses is the best way for the economy to move forward. Support Krete Manila because we’re a small business and eventually we do want to grow bigger and have our own big company that will enable us to hire employees and help with the local communities. Those are my three reasons!

About the Guest

Krete Manila is a young and proud Filipino brand that specializes in handmade products using cement as its main material. Its designers/founders, Daniel Ubas and Viktoria Laguyo, started Krete in an effort to build a brand where they could express their own passion in Filipino craftsmanship and help uplift locally made products.

Website: http://www.kretemanila.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kretemanila

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kretemanila

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.