Three Ways to Do Business
Real-life lessons from the people behind a family enterprise, a corporation, and a single proprietorship venture. (November 2002, Good Housekeeping) by Romelda C. Ascutia


3 Ways to Do BusinessLove and business do mix, as this family-run gift shop proves.

   Talk at the lunch table of Cafe Papemelroti in Quezon City is comfortable, familiar, relaxed.  Until five-year-old Isabel comes bustling in, showing off her pack of gummy bears and her child's voice piping, "Mommy, look what I've got."  Her bubbly prattle and mischievous antics infect the group, drawing indulgent smiles and doting words from her mom, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

    This perfect picture of family warmth belongs to the Alejandro family, the driving force behind the long-running and extremely popular Papemelroti chain of gift shops.  At the gathering are Benny and Corit, and their five children, Patricia, Peggy, Meldy (Isabel's mom), Robert and Tina.   Read the first syllables of the sibling's names and they spell "Papemelroti".

    This was supposedly a formal business appointment with the clan to trace the success of the Papemelroti corporation, but it turned out to be anything but.

Power family... not
    For one thing, the members don't look like your typical "power family".  Their most pressing concerns are whether everyone has ordered food to their liking and playing catch-up with each other's lives.  Everybody has a hearty laugh when Isabel is caught putting a sticky red gummy in one of her aunts' handbags.

    If you expected to learn the latest twist on Machiavellian practices from this family, or hear a litany of the 10 immutable lawas of killing off the competition, your are bound to be disappointed.

    Rather, what you'll get is decidedly unorthodox advice from 67-year-old Mommy Corit: "Build a business where you like what you do and where God is your guide and inspiration.  Then success and money will naturally follow."

    In fact, you won't get a clear-cut story because everybody jumps in with their own comments, observations, and recollections, very much a close-knit family where everybody says what's on his or her mind.  Says Meldy, "We do everything as a family, and we work together in this 'business' because we enjoy doing so and because this is not business for us but a mission."

    Their objectives are manifold.   Among these, to promote Philippine handicrafts by showcasing the Filipino's design versatility, and to increase environmental awareness through the use of recycled materials.

Christian Living
    More important, the family believes it is their duty to uphold Christian living.  Explains Patsy on the company website , "The most important mission we have is to inspire people to be better, to be nicer, to be kinder, to love more, and to make each day count.  That's why there's no negative humor in our stores even if it will sell, and why we have plaques and posters about prayers, good character, perseverance.  We want more people to know about God's love and faithfulness."

    Sound incredible?  It works for them.

    From the small shop along Tomas Morato in 1968, the business has grown into the Korben Corporation it is today.  (As with "Papemelroti", the name "Korben" is the combination of the first syllables of names, this time of the Alejandro parents).  It counts nine branches in Metro Manila and one in Cebu, mostly located in malls.  The tenth is the flagship store that recently opened at the family's main offices at Korben Place along Roces Avenue in Quezon City.

    The products - crafts ranging from stationery, furniture, and woodcarving to metal pieces, figurines, and giveaways - are also supplied wholesale to the provinces and exported to some Asian countries.  The production site in Bulacan has a factore and an apartment for longtime workers and their families.

    The evolution from a small hobby to a thriving enterprise is dramatic and fantastic enough to fill a book.  Says Mommy Corit, "The businss actually started on the wings of a prayer, literally.  I made a novena to the Lord to grant me my own small venture to keep me occupied."

    She continues, "We had no idea we'd grow this big!  After all, who was I?  A plain housewife transplanted from Cebu after marriage and who didn't know a soul in Manila.  And there was nothing going for us.  Ben and I didn't have the capital or the business acumen to pull this thing off."

Early taste of business
    But succeed they did, beyond their wildest dreams, and amazingly, their sense of family has not changee in more than three decades of success.

    The main offices in Korben Place have a distinctly homey atmosphere.  "When my children are here, we spread a mattress on the floor where they can sleep or play," says Meldy.

    And don't expect change to come any time soon.  Though aware of the business potential, they refuse to consider proposals and opportunities if it would mean sacrificing values and beliefs.

    As Patsy puts it, "Being in business is not about making money but is more an expression of yourself - what you believe in, what you want to share with others, who you are, your values, and your ideas.   Ideally, it should express the best of you."



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