“SweetRia”: More than just a tale of serendipity

“Never. I have never imagined myself going into business.”

That was Ria Grimaldo’s straightforward answer when asked about her journey in building her own enterprise – “SweetRia” – a home-based business that produces and sells homemade baked products.

Ria grew up in Poblacion, Pulilan, Bulacan, a town known for its sweets and native delicacies. She remembers enjoying the sumptuous food served by her mom during her growing up years. Some of her favorites were leche flan, ube halaya, and biko.

In 1999, Ria married her then-longtime boyfriend Neil, and started building their family. They moved to UP Diliman when Rainiel, their eldest child, passed the entrance exam at UP Integrated School (UPIS) in 2006.

As a homemaker, Ria does not really consider herself a “kitchen expert” like her mom. She cooks, but simply because she needs to feed Neil and their three (3) lovely kids: Rainiel, Reinard, and Reneil.

Fast forward to 2013, a friend offered her a second-hand La Germania oven. She bought it without much thought. Just another appliance to add to their family’s kitchen.

” It wasn’t a big deal. Maybe at that time, we had extra money. And it was second-hand, so a lot cheaper than brand-new ones. It was still in a very good condition, so why not?”

Little did she know that this would pave the way for a new interest. Or maybe it has always been there, just waiting to be discovered.

“Nanghihinayang kasi ako na hindi gamitin. So nag-try ako. Ayun, nahilig ako.” (I thought it would be a waste of money if I would not use it. So I tried, and I liked it.)

She started baking. Cookies. Muffins. Banana bread. Just random stuff.

Snacks during schooldays. Sweet desserts for the weekend binge. Cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, or any special occasion for the family. Just family.

When Ria mustered enough confidence in what she baked, she started giving some to relatives. And then to her closest friends.

“Nung may mga nakatikim na na kakilala, at nasarapan sila, nagustuhan nila… doon na ako nagkaroon ng idea na pwede pala siyang business.” (When other people tasted and loved my baked products that was the time, I realized that I could turn this into a business.)

Although becoming an entrepreneur was never part of her dreams, when life led her to that path, Ria took it and owned it. “SweetRia” was born.

 

Ria’ 5 essentials of managing a home-based business

(1) Product development and investing in baking tools and equipment

Much as it was tempting for her to start her business right away because of the encouraging and nakakakilig na feedback on her baked products, Ria chose to step back. She wanted to start things right.  She focused her energy and her time in product development.

“I mastered the recipe first and made all the necessary adjustments before I decided to start selling.”

Aside from product development, Ria also had to invest in baking tools and equipment as “my old oven could only fit in four (4) loaves.”

To be more efficient, she bought a new and bigger oven. Then she added two kinds of heavy duty stand mixer, a bread slicer, more pans, and bigger mixing bowls.

Ria shared that she didn’t buy all her baking stuff all in one go. She had to save up for each tool and equipment.

“Mahal ang gamit. So kailangang pag-ipunan. Kung di ka naman bibili ng gamit, masakit sa katawan.” (The tools and equipment are expensive. I had to save up for it. But it is necessary because if I don’t invest in this stuff, it would be labor-intensive.)

 (2) Developing your marketing strategies

Baking came naturally for Ria. Even if she did not take formal culinary classes, coming up with a new recipe was easy-peasy for her.

Selling her baked products, however, is another story.

“Mahirap makipagsabayan lalo na kapag baguhan ka; ‘yung mga kakompetensiya mo, may pangalan na. So dapat mahaba ang pasensya mo. Kailangan ng tiyaga, ng strategy.” (It’s hard to compete in the market especially when you are new in the business. You have to be patient. You need diligence and hard work. You need strategy.)

Since their lives practically revolve around UP, Ria’s first target clients were from the UP community: Neil’s colleagues from UP ISSI, and the UPIS, where all their kids were enrolled.

The first few months gave her meager weekly earning. Not bad, but the potential to earn more was there. And she recognized this.

Seeing that the UPIS canteen provided her a steady market and a regular income, she decided to make this her business model. She actively looked for school and office canteens as her intended market.

And this was a rigorous process. She visited several school and office canteens near UP. She submitted proposals, gave sample products and negotiated with canteen administrators.

“Hindi lahat ng kliyente ay madaling kausap…Dapat masipag mag-follow-up.” (Some clients are not easy to deal with. You also need to constantly follow-up.)

Ria also remembers using public transport (jeepney or taxi) and crossing footbridge while carrying boxes of her baked goodies just so she could deliver to her clients on time.

Pre-pandemic, Ria and her kids would also sell their products at UP ISSI during Saturdays (sometimes even Sundays) when there are training programs and other events.  They also added siomai and siopao in their menu to add more options for their growing clients.

In the end, their efforts were not in vain. Seven canteens were added to her regular clients: Holy Family School, Philippine School of Business Administration (PSBA) canteen; STI-Cubao canteen; Antas Coop; Unlad Mini-Grocery; LCP Coop canteen, and Rachelle’s Xerox Copy.

Her weekly earnings of PhP 800.00 from when she started gradually increased up to PhP 5,000.00.

SweetRia More than just a tale of serendipity
All smiles. Ria and her kids selling their homemade products at UP ISS

(3) Cashflow management: Learning while doing

Cashflow management was something Ria had to learn as she was slowly building “SweetRia”. She said that most of her clients pay either weekly or every two weeks. So, she had to be mindful of how much money goes in, and how much to spend for baking supplies, how much to keep for future expenses while waiting for the payment from clients.

“You have to plan, but first you have to record every financial transaction before you can actually plan and manage your cash flow.” 

(4) “The family that bakes together stays together”

“SweetRia” is a family business in every sense of the term. Everyone is involved in the business -from purchasing of raw materials, to production, to market distribution.

“I’m in charge of the recipe and product development, Neil helps me in baking and setting the timer. My kids do the mixing, slicing and also packaging. Neil also helps me with the deliveries.”

Ria acknowledges that without the support that she gets from her husband and kids, she wouldn’t be able to successfully build and sustain “SweetRia.”

Neil, who is a permanent employee of the UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI), also regularly gives Ria advice on the day-to-day management and continued improvement of SweetRia.

“Neil is part of the Training Division of the Institute, and he has learned a lot from the entrepreneurial trainings they have been conducting. Applying those learnings is a big help particularly in the management aspect of SweetRia.”

(5) “Life is a great balancing act.”

When you are wearing many hats, knowing and being clear about your priorities is crucial. It is clear with Ria that first she is a wife, a mom and a homemaker, and then an entrepreneur.

“Hindi ako tumatanggap ng orders ‘pag weekdays, para makapag-focus kina Neil at sa mga bata.” (I don’t accept orders during weekdays so I can focus on serving Neil and the kids.)

Ria emphasized the importance of diligent work and careful planning when juggling her roles.

“Hindi pwedeng late ang gising. Ako bumabangon ng alas-kwatro ng umaga… Importante rin na may schedule. Bawat araw naka-schedule. Wednesday is usually for doing groceries to buy baking supplies, Thursday is for the preparation of ingredients, Friday is for the collection of payments from clients. Ang weekend naman ay for baking, para makakatulong sina Neil at mga bata kung walang projects and exams. Then we deliver the baked goodies during Mondays.”  (You need to wake up early. I wake up as early as 4AM. Scheduling is also important… weekend is for baking so Neil and the kids can help if they don’t have projects and exams…)   

Managing her time well also allowed Ria to further improve herself. Before the pandemic, Ria attended short courses on baking to be able to add more pastries and cakes to her product offerings.

SweetRia More than just a tale of serendipity
Ria and her sweet products as she completes her short course in baking

 

“SweetRia” and the Effects of the Pandemic

Ria shared that she took the first few months of strict community quarantine last year as an opportunity to rest. But even this, she considered a privilege.

“Bago ang COVID, talagang puro trabaho. Sa gawaing-bahay, sa negosyo. Sinamantala ko ang pandemya para makapagpahinga. Pero syempre nagawa ko lang yun kasi may stable na income si Neil. Kung wala ito, sobrang hirap para sa maliliit na negosyo.” (Before the pandemic, it was just purely about household work and SweetRia, there was not much time for rest. When the pandemic hit, I took that as an opportunity to rest. But of course, I was only able to do this because Neil has regular income; if this wasn’t the case, it would really be difficult for small enterprises like ours.)

How are small enterprises like SweetRia affected by the COVID pandemic?

“Malaki ang naging epekto. Tumigil talaga. Sarado ang canteens – which are my main clients. Nag-iingat din kami sa Lung Center bilang ang taas ng COVID cases sa QC. So, lie-low dahil sa virus.” (The effect was huge. We really stopped operations. The canteens, which are my main clients, were closed. We are also extra careful doing business at the Lung Center because of the high incidence of COVID cases in Quezon City.)

Asked to give a rough estimate of how badly the enterprise was affected by the pandemic, Ria said she lost around 75% of her monthly income.

But despite the challenges the pandemic has brought, Ria remains persistent and committed to continuing what she started.

“Tuloy-tuloy lang. Hindi ko ito pakakawalan dahil lang sa pandemya. Matatapos din naman itong COVID. Kasi kung ititigil ko, sayang ang sinimulan ko, sayang ang benta, sayang ang kliyente, sayang ang negosyo.” (We will carry on and move forward. I will not let this go just because of this pandemic. Anyway, this pandemic will soon end. If I will stop and close shop, it would be such a waste of my efforts in starting this enterprise, my clients, the opportunity to earn.)

To sustain their operations though this crisis, Ria had to revisit her marketing and operational strategies and make the necessary changes.

“We went online. My kids created SweetRia’s Facebook page. Clients would just message us on Facebook for orders. Goods can be picked up from our house or have it delivered through service providers.”

Ria also diversified her products and started selling ube cheese pandesal, yema cheese pandesal, chocolate pandesal, and plain pandesal.

“I also learned how to bake mango cake, red velvet cake, blueberry cheesecake, and ube cake, and started selling these sweet treats on Facebook.”

The feedback was great. New and existing clients kept coming in. Although her income is not the same pre-pandemic, it is enough to sustain the business. And yes, the potential to earn more is there.

Selling her baked goodies on Facebook was another thing she didn’t imagine she would be doing. But just like her entrepreneurial journey, Ria realizes that just because some things were not planned doesn’t mean they were not destined.

SweetRia More than just a tale of serendipity
SweetRia poster on Facebook page

SweetRia is on Facebook! You may order its bestselling products – ube cheese pandesal, yema cheese pandesal, carrot cake, red velvet cake, mango cake and many others – here.

 

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