Business in Manila, Both Mall and Small

19 August 2010 at 15:55 5 comments

I have just completed my first two weeks at the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) in Manila, Philippines.  For those of you who followed Prem Thomas’s blog, the following account of my first impressions of Manila and CCT will likely seem familiar, but I hope you still find them interesting.

A first Jeepney ride through the heavy traffic congestion on Taft Street, the main thoroughfare through Ermita and Malate, gave me a quick introduction to the urban economy of the Philippines.  Despite the presence of familiar franchises (McDonalds, Starbucks, etc.) and some not so familiar ones (Jollibee, a local favorite), the majority of commercial enterprises lining the road are small, family run store fronts and stands, most of them selling a diverse and predictable range of products: candies, bottled water, soft drinks, small toiletries, spices, canned goods, etc.  The sheer number of these “sari-sari” stores is astonishing.  It wasn’t surprising then that as I began working with the CCT Credit Cooperative uploading borrower profiles onto Kiva’s website, I found that the vast majority of borrowers listed “SSS” (Sari-Sari Store) as their current business, and the purchase of small consumer goods for repackaging and resale as the purpose of the loan.

A few trips to borrowers working with the CCT Pasay branch shed some light on the practicality and flexibility of these businesses.  One borrower I interviewed stated that she began by selling candy, used a loan to expand her business into perfume, and then utilized another to start a purified water business.  She then also mentioned casually that she runs a barbeque at five pm each day.  A busy woman.  The primary attraction to the business for many of the sari-sari store owners is the ability to manage domestic tasks while also generating income.  Purchasing inventory is as simple as heading to the local grocery store to buy in bulk, and at times when the sari-sari store has no customers store owners can take care of daily household tasks.

The informal sector is a dominant element of life in Manila, and small sari-sari businesses run out of homes serve as an important and relatively stable source of supplemental income for families or individuals either unable to find higher paying wage jobs or earning wages that do not fully cover daily expenses.  It is easy to see why it is difficult to find these jobs too – larger stores are already heavily staffed.  The local department store, SM, has three or four service staff per isle.  The same is true for fast food franchises, which each have seven or eight service employees dedicated to cleaning tables.  There is an abundance of labor in the city.

Besides heavy staffing, a walk through the mall in Manila is similar to an experience one might have in the United States, but there is other, more subtle, evidence of the substantial informal sector that exists outside:  an extensive range of calculators and ledger paper is on offer at the department store, sold in quantities ill suited for large business.

A variety of business paper on sale for use by local entrepreneurs

More information on sari-sari stores can be found in a  paper from the Journal of Small Business Management at the following website:

Nick Whalley, KF12, is having an great time eating new foods and getting to know the ins and outs of Manila.

Entry filed under: KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class). Tags: , , , , , , .

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  • 1. adora patotoy  |  7 March 2011 at 20:12

    good day im adora im intrested bout your willing to help people wants to hve capitl for starting business pls help me to avail thanks and godless………………..

  • 2. adora patotoy  |  7 March 2011 at 20:08

    good day im interested bout your willing to help people wants to avail capital for business and im the one can pls help me just email me full of thanks godbless………………and more power………………………..

  • 3. Lina Goldberg  |  19 August 2010 at 18:44

    How are you liking the jeepneys? Best/most terrifying part of Manila.

    I always wonder about these stores–why do they all sell exactly the same things as their neighbors? Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy some products in bulk that the people on their street aren’t already selling?

  • 4. Steven Frank  |  19 August 2010 at 18:17

    I just got back from 3 1/2 weeks in the Philippines. My step-daughter operates a sari-sari in Tondo so I read your article with a personal interest. I also received an interesting email from a woman named “Pinky” I met in Balagtas, Bulucan. I will include a copy for your info (along with my response):

    From: Pinky Jess
    Sent: Thu, August 19, 2010 4:51:34 AM
    Subject: urgent

    dear steve,
    hi again, i hope everything’s fine.I wriet u this time coz i need help immediate help, I was hoping that it is not odd to u. coz it was just once we ‘ve met. becoz it is about financial, i know that it’s a shame to ask help from u about money.I got no job.i am just a mother is already old,she got no anything at all but a house which we stay.steve, it’s all about my daughter. she’s already8,10 yrs. from she needs to go to college. and i don’t have anyone to help me support her. I was hoping that u can give a little help. I wish to open a small bussiness, but i don’t have capital.I hope u will be the one to help me in’s so urgent.Thank you very much in advance if you can help me in this situation.regards to your litlle one and to your wife. and please again much better if you could find me a friend.

    sincerly yours,

    Re: urgent

    Steve Frank

    Add to Contacts
    To: Pinky Jess

    Please understand that I do want to help you. I have helped many people in your situation to borrow money for a business so that they could support their family. I have money available which I lend out to people through a website called They work with a micro-finance company in the Phillipines to help people who want to start or improve their business. You can find a lender through this link Look at this:

    In 2005, ASKI established three (3) new branches: San Rafael (Bulacan), Santiago (Isabela) & Tuguegarao (Cagayan Valley). In 2006, it opened branches: Tayug, (Pangasinan), Paniqui (Tarlac), Angeles (Pampanga), Solano (Nueva Vizcaya), Urdaneta (Pangasinan), Cauayan (Isabela) and Roxas (Isabela). A branch located in Plaridel, Bulacan was opened in July 2007 while another branch in Tarlac located in Concepcion was established in May 2008.

    I think Plaridel is closest to you. Find out if you can apply for a small loan through ASKI. If not, ask them who would lend to you a small enough amount to get started. If you have a plan and an idea of what you want, I will help you. I will be the first one to loan you money.

    I have money on loan to a man in Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental for his motorcycle transport business. He borrowed in March and has 8 months to pay it back. He borrowed US$350.00 or about 15,000PHP to repair his engine. He previously borrowed and paid back 8000PHP. I have no doubt he will pay it back in full and on time. And I have no doubt you will too!

    Please keep me up to date on your progress and let me know if you need any help with this going forward. My best to you and your family, God Bless!!

    Thanks Nick for your time and the assistance that you are bringing to the Filipinos. They are worthy of all that we can do to help them!

    • 5. Brittany  |  20 August 2010 at 01:31

      Hey Steve, I’m a Kiva fellow and I just read your response. Fantastic, I loved your email! This is wonderful and made me smile.

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