The Calm Before the Storm
Five months ago, we were living our normal lives – eating out with friends, daily commute to the metro, weekend trip to the malls, occasional beach parties, and travelling out of the country – technically living our lives to the fullest.
Then in just a snap, everything changed because of the pandemic. The rise of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines changes our daily routine into something that we’ve never anticipated.
On the 16th of March 2020, the government imposed ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) the lockdown restricted operations for most businesses, and non-essentials were ordered to temporarily close. This led to a lot of people losing their jobs, their businesses, and basically all of us in utter shock. What do we do now? What will happen next? The quarantine restrictions consumed us and put our lives on hold.
Some of us were lucky enough to keep our job. But working from home also has its challenges. Proper time management like knowing when to start and stop working is essential. You also miss human interaction, you realize small chat breaks and lunch out with colleagues can actually boost our morale and reduce stress at work.
That’s why I was so thrilled when I was tasked to interview three amazing individuals from different field and get their insights on how they’re riding the waves of the “new normal’ – FINALLY, human interaction!
You might have read about her or even got to meet her if you’ve attended one of her classes at Urban Ashram. Ms. Cristina Holopainen, the Founder, and CEO of Urban Ashram is a breath of fresh air. She’s an embodiment of health and wellness who saw an opportunity to upgrade the way people learn yoga in the Philippines.
Her line of business sells confidence for over 40 years. Ms. Maria Camille Ilagan, the COO of Jesi Mendez Salon Group Inc.– a high-end beauty salon chain that has been pioneering the beauty salon business since the ’70s. She has also been imparting her knowledge in the beauty and salon industries on her interviews with DZBB and CNN.
Most of you must have seen her Instagram post that went viral about her dad shouldering the salaries of over 1,800+ employees. Ms. Denice Sy Munez, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Ever Bilenais so much more than that. Aside from managing a multi-million company, she’s also a dedicated mom to her son Dean, a loving wife, and an ultimate lady boss!
To be honest, doing an online interview is a bit daunting, I do not feel the physical connection when I am talking to someone through my laptop screen.
Surprisingly, it was quite a delight hearing their views and opinion, and it made me feel more at ease knowing that I’m not alone in this shift. A lot of people feel how I am feeling, and that was comforting.
As a business owner, how do you feel about the ongoing pandemic?
URBAN ASHRAM: Cristina admitted that Urban Ashram’s business process is highly adaptive when it comes to events like the pandemic. She said, “The 9 years of Urban Ashram was a rehearsal for this”. Cristina also shared that people need to learn to minimize risks and accept losses. “We have to assess, adapt, and implement new systems”.
JESI MENDOZ SALON: For Camille, she felt challenged because suddenly they have no choice but to follow the government’s regulations to stop operations. She also expressed disappointment on how the government is responding to businesses, “I got mad because we weren’t warned by the government and Department of Health (DOH). There was no information and data given to the public regarding COVID-19. There was no concrete plan to be established (emergency response) in our country”.
EVER BILENA: As for Denice, which is always on top of her game when it comes to developing new marketing strategies for Ever Bilena said it was, “Depressing because I’m a workaholic”.
How was it like when you had to temporarily cease-operations during the lockdown period.
URBAN ASHRAM: Cristina had no choice but to reduce the number of their students per (online) class at Urban Ashram to encourage the teachers, “I paid the teachers the same amount so they will be motivated to do it”. They shifted to collaborative learning, hands-on approach, and progressive thinking. Cristina also hosts a town hall meeting every week (recorded & shared) to share her learnings from her webinars and online classes about running a business online in order to keep everyone engaged.
JESI MENDEZ SALON: Camille, being a thoughtful boss shared to us that she had to use her personal funds to provide cash advances to her employees. She highlighted, “We took care of ourselves first because we needed to be strong”.
EVER BILENA: Denice openly talked about how they incurred zero sales both in retail and collection from direct sales. Camille does not stop on finding solutions for the company. She then saw a demand for skincare products and started Hello Glow Kit. She said, “It’s actually exciting because we already sold 300,000+ orders”. In her recent Instagram post, she shared a milestone on Hello Glow Kit which is now the number one all-natural whitening set in the market today.
What learnings can you impart to fellow business owners in your industry?
URBAN ASHRAM: Cristina denoted to be proactive instead of reactive and at the same time be compassionate and empathetic and added, “(To have the) willingness to accept potentially the worst thing that can happen or that bad things can happen without being scared of it”
JESI MENDEZ SALON: Camille reiterated that even it is indeed her perfect time to retire, she insisted that she still needs to support her employees at the end of the day and added that, “Salons are a basic necessity and essential to our clients and it is more than a need than a luxury”.
EVER BILENA: Denice, on the other hand, mentioned keeping our heads above the water to find solutions, and to always, “Empathize with your workers and do your best to survive”.
Moving forward, how are you preparing your business to the “new normal” culture?
URBAN ASHRAM: Earlier in the interview, Cristina shared to us that yoga is perceived here in the country as expensive and just for the rich. When asked, she told us that it is her goal for Urban Ashram to make it easy, affordable, and accessible to everyone. More importantly, she voiced that, “(Business owners) need to ensure that the foundation of your company is strong”.
JESI MENDEZ SALON: Camille then shared to with us that she created a new business framework for Jesi Mendez Salons, highlighting the value of SDS or Sanitize – Disinfect – Sterilize. Although they are already implementing SDS before the pandemic, imposing of the said method is now even stricter. Aside from that, she also had to change their advocacy from selling confidence to selling confidence while ensuring safety.
EVER BILENA: Denice’s strategy is astounding. From retail, and collections accumulated from direct sales, she now found a better way to slowly bring the company’s finances back by using the power of online marketing. With her best-selling Hello Glow Kit, she is able to provide jobs to their distributors, partners, and other essential employees in the company.
What drives you to continue fighting for your business?
URBAN ASHRAM: Cristina: “There’s a lot of people (employees and clients) at stake. And this is what I really enjoy. I’m always excited about what I can do that’s new for them”.
JESI MENDEZ SALON: Camille: “The employees. Before I tell myself, it’s time to retire. But then again, paano yung mga employees who still need us?”
EVER BILENA: Denice: “Employees. To give back to the backbone of the company”.
Originally, I wanted to create an informational article, but in the end, I can’t keep myself from highlighting their drive and passion.
Let’s face it, not all business owners give great importance to their employees. The COVID-19 pandemic showed their truest intentions and motivations. Having to hear from them how much they value their people is really overwhelming and touching.
They made me realize that it’s not just the returns and the profits that are important to them – it is their care and love for the people who are with them inside the yoga studio, the salons, and even inside corporate buildings.