Freeman Cebu Business

Sari Fund to benefit 1.3M sari-sari stores nationwide

Ehda M. Dagooc - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — The 1.3 million sari-sari store operators in the Philippines are poised to get access to direct capitalization requirements following the launching of Sari Fund, an inventory financing service aimed at providing support to neighborhood mom-and-pop shops.

A collaboration between Packworks, a Filipino start-up offering a business-to-business (B2B) fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) marketplace for sari-sari stores, and Cebuana Lhuillier’s Kanegosyo Center, the new facility aims at empowering sari-sari store owners with the financial freedom to stock-up on their inventory to boost growth.

There are around 1.3 million sari-sari stores, or neighborhood mom-and-pop shops, in the Philippines, serving as the primary source of daily essentials for about 94 percent of Filipino consumers. Yet, services for their business growth are limited, leaving them unbanked and operating cash-in-hand.

Through Packworks’ Sari.PH app, Kanegosyo Center will provide eligible users with an exclusive credit line that they can use to purchase inventory from partner megastores. To make the service affordable, eligible sari-sari store owners only pay a minimal transaction fee so they can focus on growing their business.

The unique inventory financing program is a crucial tool for small enterprises like sari-sari stores, which often face significant financial challenges, primarily due to limited access to traditional banking services and credit facilities.

With Sari Fund, micro-retail stores can stock inventory without the immediate burden of upfront costs, allowing them to maintain a robust array of items catering to the needs of their communities while also enabling them to grow and stabilize their businesses.

Leveraging technology to provide easy, simple, and affordable credit lines, the strategic

partnership between Packworks and Cebuana Lhuiller’sKanegosyo Center aims to overcome the traditional barriers in empowering the unbanked and underbanked sectors through the innovative inventory financing program.

“We at Packworks are thrilled to embark on this journey with Cebuana Lhuillier, uniting our strengths to bring a transformative change in the grassroots retail sector. Sari Fund is more than just a financial solution but a beacon of hope for the heart and soul of our communities – the sari-sari stores. We believe that by unlocking their potential, we’re contributing to a more vibrant and resilient MSME sector in the Philippines,” said Packworks co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Bing Tan.

According to Tan, the partnership not only provides essential financial support but also fosters financial inclusion.

“This is a significant step towards a future where every sari-sari store owner has the opportunity to grow and succeed,” added Tan.

Sari Fund comes timely as the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) sector will need a much-needed boost for 2024 when high inflation is still expected, posing a challenge for small businesses.

Analysts expect elevated inflation to affect the country’s economic performance this year with the onset of El Niño.

According to a 2023 study conducted by Packworks, the country’s inflation can be felt worse in sari-sari stores, with food prices as high as 15 percent in these stores last year.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that nearly all businesses in the Philippines are categorized as MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) making up 99.58 percent of the total.

“The dynamic alliance between Cebuana Lhuillier’s Kanegosyo Center and Packworks exemplifies a harmonious strategy for advancing financial inclusion for MSMEs. Through the fusion of technology, they dismantle conventional barriers, presenting groundbreaking and accessible micro-financing solutions to empower the unbanked and under-banked segments,” noted Cebuana Lhuillier President and CEO Jean Henri Lhuillier.

Packworks and Cebuana Lhuillier share a common vision of empowering the MSME sector in the country through financial inclusion.

Packworks, founded by Tan and co-founders Ibba Bernardo and Hubert Yap, started in 2018 with a drive to improve goods accessibility for remote sari-sari stores in far-flung places. Since then, the company has been empowering its network of over 270,000 sari-sari stores through its integrated mobile appecosystem that allows them to access pricing tools, inventory management, sales and revenue tracking, and working capital loans.

In addition, Packworks is also committed to promotingfinancial inclusion and empowering sari-sari stores. Through the SariSkwela program in partnership with social development organization Bayan Academy, sari-sari stores can accesslearning modules on micro-entrepreneurship, further equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance their businesses.

On the other hand, Cebuana Lhuillier is the Philippines’ leading microfinance institution, offering accessible and convenient micro-savings products that transform the way Filipinos save money. The Kanegosyo Center, launched in 2023, serves as an all-in-one platform that provides aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with practical resources, expert coaching, and financial solutions. True to its advocacy of providing growth in the support and development of MSMEs,

Kanegosyo Center offers comprehensive curated offerings in resources and assistive interventions for aspiring entrepreneurs, including micro-investment and sales systems, document assistance, and business coaching. — (FREEMAN)

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