Gold in fish balls

- Rose G. De La Cruz () - August 4, 2003 - 12:00am
It took Elvie Caligacion three years to decide what business to go into after she was retrenched in 1983.

"I made a comprehensive study on four possible business options: dirty ice cream, pizza, fish ball, and taho. I found out the fish ball business required the least capital but had the fastest turnover and, therefore, the shortest period to get back my investment," said Caligacion, proprietor of Wivie’s Food Products.

Wivie’s started with an initial capital of P3,000–part of Caligacion’s separation pay–and used the money to put up two fish ball carts and to buy six kilos of fish balls from Divisoria. By the fifth month of business, Wivie’s had five carts; by the eighth month, the business had 10 carts.

"What I earned from the fish ball business was retained as capital. I got my daily operating expenses from another business that I started as a sideline while I was still working as an employee," said Caligacion.

Today, Wivie’s has a fleet of 33 yellow and green carts, which ply the streets of San Juan, Mandaluyong, and Pasig City. The carts carry not just fish balls but also kikiam, squid balls, and burger patties.

"I pioneered the offering of a variety of ready-to-fry food in the fish ball cart business in 1989. The idea came when I saw the kikiam, tempura, and squid balls being exhibited by a Singaporean company called Yen Mei Products at the Philippine International Convention Center . I asked if I could carry their food lines and they agreed," said Caligacion.

To sweeten the deal, Yen Mei offered to give Wivie’s a freezer. The offer was turned down. Instead, a compromise was reached where Yen Mei advanced the P14,000 needed to buy the freezer and Wivie’s paid back the advance money at a rate of P100 a day. Wivie’s currently has 10 freezers.
Work force
Wivie’s uses a boundary system for its vendors. This means that their earnings for the week are determined by the stocks they sell. Unsold stocks are returned at the end of the day and placed in plastic bags with the names of the vendors on them so these can be sold the next day together with the new stocks.

Most come from Samar, partly because of company preference and partly because of an incentive program where a vendor who recruits another vendor gets a point from the sales of the recruit.

"Many of them started out with me while still in their teens. Now, they have their own families. I take care of them the way I take care of the business," said Caligacion.

Average daily sales per vendor is P400 although one vendor makes as much as P2,000 a day because of his location. The working day starts at 7 a.m. after the daily orders of 400 kilos of fish balls and 1,200 kilos of assorted squid balls, kikiam, and chicken balls are picked up from suppliers by Wivie’s delivery vans and are sorted out.

The vendors are asked to report back to the office not later than 9 p.m.
In house
On its own, Wivie’s operates a factory that produces the dipping sauces for the fish and squid balls as well as for the kikiam.

"I started experimenting with sauces in 1998 but released these in the market only the following year, after getting the approval of the Department of Science and Technology on the technical operations and the Bureau of Food and Drugs on the final product itself," said Caligacion.

Wivie’s got the details of how to put up a sauce factory from the DoST. The company’s stainless steel ovens and sterilizers in Mandaluyong were built by a manufacturer in Laguna.

"Everybody has been very helpful. It was one of my suppliers, MGM Food Commodities, which gave me a referral letter to the DoST. The Technology and Livelihood Resources Corp. referred me to that Laguna manufacturer," she said.

The construction of the factory was funded by dividends from the Mandaluyong Traders Cooperative. Further improvements were funded through a P200,000 one-year loan from Citibank in September 2002.

Wivie’s sauces as well as its two other product lines–cheese sticks and burger patties–carry the brand name, Benok’s. These are pushed during the market rounds of her major suppliers as far north as Pangasinan and as far south as Bicol.

"The secret in any business is to love your work. Once you love your work, perseverance, dedication, and hard work will follow," she said.

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