This pandemic has been the worst crisis our company has ever encountered since I started Ever Bilena Cosmetics Inc. (EBCI) in 1983. I don’t think anyone could have prepared for such an unprecedented predicament.
The first time the lockdown was mandated in March, I did not know how to react. Some of our office and sales staff were crying, unsure of their future, but I had to be strong for them and assure them that everything would be back to normal — even though I felt uncertain myself. But I have confidence that the will to survive is key in surpassing these challenging times.
Business for non-essentials
Like many brands in the beauty retail business, our business was hit hard by COVID-19. Beginning the second week of March, sales drastically declined in stores as the government highly discouraged traffic in malls. By ECQ, revenue had dropped completely. Retail operations closed while online partners like Lazada suspended orders of non-essential products.
Despite being present in groceries and convenience stores, our core brands were in the least-priority categories, namely Ever Bilena and Careline for color cosmetics, and Blackwater for fragrances and deo-products.
People were in quarantine. There was no reason to wear makeup when they were just staying at home. If anything, eye makeup like eye shadow, brow pencil, eyeliner, were the only things for customers to express themselves. Regardless, the initial phase of ECQ was such a sensitive period that everyone was so disheartened to even make an effort to apply cosmetics.
Giving back to our employees
When the quarantine was extended in mid-April, the company’s cash flow was extremely tight. I remember praying deeply to God, to seek His guidance and direction. The plight forced me to contemplate why I went into business in the first place. I realize that beyond making a living for my loved ones, Ever Bilena has become an instrument in creating jobs and livelihood for thousands of families.
Our company employs more than 1,800 staff nationwide, and the first thing I was concerned about upon hearing news of the lockdown extension was their welfare. Consequently, we decided to release financial aid to all EBCI employees in the form of full salaries to help everyone get by.
Adapting to the times
Almost two months into quarantine, we saw how consumers were longing for some sense of normalcy. Our online sales started picking up for makeup, particularly for brow and eye products — as expected. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to compensate for the huge losses.
By observing the market and social media, we were able to identify opportunities in skincare. There’s a heightened awareness for hygiene and self-care because people tend to take care of their skin more during lockdown.
At the beginning of 2020, we had plans for a new skincare brand called Hello Glow that my daughter and our chief sales and marketing officer, Denice, had developed. We decided to try our luck and reintroduce this through an online reseller network.
By collaborating with online entrepreneurs, we were able to sell 300,000 sets in June alone! In my opinion, online resellers are the new backbone of our economy. And with modern-day economic heroes as our business partners, I am constantly pushing my marketing and product development team to engage them and provide sources of income for them through consistent product expansions.
For the first time in my whole life, I was home 24/7 for more than two months. Though I bonded with my family and kids, business-wise it was still terrible. The damage has been done, not just to Ever Bilena but to the economy as a whole — in the Philippines and worldwide. Though our online direct selling arm is doing well, retail business is barely 20 percent of pre-COVID off-take.
We want to eventually deploy all employees to return to work. Unfortunately, only less than 50 percent are back on duty, mainly due to limited public transportation and some store closures. I trust that slowly but surely, retail business will go back on track.
“ As a business owner and entrepreneur, my mantra is to simply work harder and smarter, learn from the mistakes and pick up best practices from other companies for survival. ”
The COVID-19 pandemic has put many companies in immensely stressful circumstances and we are one of them. I imagine more and more brands are thirsty for sales, scrambling to get a bigger slice of a significantly smaller pie. As a business owner and entrepreneur, my mantra is to simply work harder and smarter, learn from the mistakes and pick up best practices from other companies for survival.
Currently, the mindset I have embedded into our management team is to push for as much revenue that can be generated as possible. It’s not about hitting targets or achieving growth rates. Rather, the focus is simply to get through this tough time together, and improve total company productivity.
Looking on the brighter side
The pandemic places us in a vulnerable position. It’s truly the greatest world crisis since World War II. There is death, despair, and economic collapse sans the violence and massive physical destruction. I always like finding the silver lining in every situation. And just like in past wars, those who have the courage, tenacity, and determination will overcome.
As a Christian, I strongly believe in God’s promise in Romans 8:28, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purpose.” I tell my kids and staff that Ever Bilena is God’s gift to me. And I deem it my responsibility to ensure all EBCI stakeholders are well taken care of.
Before COVID-19, my attention had been on other industries outside Ever Bilena. Because of the lockdown, all my side projects are now at a standstill.
As I reoriented myself to EBCI operations and opportunities, I was able to lead the company into scaling Hello Glow exponentially in a matter of weeks and bring back passion and rigor to our management teams.
Without the pandemic, I would not have come across the potential of the skin care category, nor would I have made instructions to mobilize our sales team and direct selling partners to maximize the online market.
In spite of the struggles in the retail and beauty industry and the current status of the economy, I am still grateful and blessed to be able to keep our company afloat and our bottom-line black. Once the country gets back on its feet, I am hopeful that we would have turned something bad into an ever better future.
Additional photo from Dioceldo Sy's Facebook page.
Edited by Tanya T. Lara