RP souvenirs anyone?

Cebu Daily News (January 4, 2010) — Part of the preparation for the annual Sinulog festivities is to choose what to wear especially during the grand parade.

There is a brand of t-shirts that shows off the festive Sinulog atmosphere: Cebu’s very own Islands Souvenirs.

The brand has been associated with Cebu’s annual fiesta that it has been starting selling Sinulog T-shirts as early as December.

But Island Souvenirs did not start as a T-shirt brand for Sinulog, said Jonathan Jay Aldeguer, Islands Souvenirs founder and chief executive officer.

“Having parents who are entrepreneurs and running their own businesses, I sort of have already in me that enterprising spirit. And I did some small businesses myself even way back in my college years in Ateneo (de Manila),” Aldeguer said.

In college, he used to carry around backpacks with T-shirts to sell to his classmates.

He sold T-shirts to augment his allowance that his parents sent him while he was attending school in Manila.

He was also an avid collector of souvenir items.

“Anywhere I go, I make sure that I buy mementos like figurines and Picasso books,” he said.

Aldgeuer, however, stopped buying figurines and books as souvenirs during his trip to Europe for practical reasons.

He said that he went to Europe in the early 1990s. He was often mobile. But he strained his back because his backback was heavy with figurines and books.

He then decided to just collect T-shirts instead.

“It was also more practical as I have to change clothes. And so buying T-shirts can satisfy both my clothing and souvenir needs,” he said.

After that Europe trip, Aldeguer also traveled around the country and he realized that the souvenir items then were substandard especially the T-shirts.

He said the souvenir items then were mostly handicraft-based such as wooden spoons and forks from Baguio, which sometimes were not practical to buy.

“Although these reflect the creativity of the Filipinos, it also failed to depict the true nature of being a Filipino which is festive and colorful,” he said after his trip around the country, Aldeguer realized a dearth of souvenir items in the tourism sector. So he created Islands Souvenirs in 1993.

“My staff and I were discussing what month we started, was it March or April. But it’s sometime during that period,” he said.

Aldeguer started with a cart in the old White Gold Department Store.

“I approached this bamboo furniture maker named Rene in Lahug. That’s in front of UP and gave him my cart design. At first, it looked like a boat and we had to make revisions. He charged me P800 more for the revisions, “so instead I ended up paying him P1,800,” he said.

His initial capital was P200,000, which came from his savings from his small businesses while in college. He also got a help from his parents.

Aldeguer then launched his brand with a full array of products from t-shirts to caps and other souvenir items.

Within four months of operation, they transferred to an 80-square-meter area inside the mall because they were growing really fast.

Within a year, Aldeguer opened another outlet in Cagayan de Oro City. The outlet grew by over 300 percent in terms of sales in the second year.

To date, there are around 80 to 90 boutiques, kiosks and department store outlets nationwide. Aldeguer said their expansions were funded internally.

“I never had to get a loan. Everything was from internal funds,” he said.

Islands Souvenirs started with 15 people. Now it has now grown to over 500 employees.

There is now an umbrella company, the Islands Group of Companies, which includes Islands Souvenirs and sister companies such as Islands Banca and Islands and More, which caters to the other needs in the tourism industry.

Aldeguer said the fast growth of his business venture was not a walk in the park.

“Back then, souvenir brands were all placed in Filipiniana zones which were usually placed in non-accessible areas of the mall and I have to change that. Somehow my efforts paid off and mall operators now gave us prime locations,” he said.

Aside from that, keeping up with the inventories also proved to be a real challenge for Aldeguer.

“You can’t sell the same products in all outlets like inventories in Cagayan can’t be sold in Cebu because these are novelty items. And so we really have to maintain a level of inventory which is different in every outlet,” he said.

The unpredictability of the market is also another challenge for the Island Souvenirs, said Aldeguer, who oftentimes find himself dealing with different groups of people all the time.

“I can have Japanese and Russians in another time and these groups have different preferences,” he said

“But I don’t feel bad about it as the number of visiting tourists has been increasing over the years and this will always translate to sales,” he said.

Aldeguer also plans to have outlets in most tourism destinations in the country and become a conduit for travel needs like bookings.

“There are still a lot of gaps to fill in the tourism industry and I would like to be a part of that as it has always been my goal to nurture the tourism industry in all destinations in the country,” said Aldeguer.

“Now, we have become like a mini-billboard of these different destinations like Iloilo and we want to push further,” he added.

He also sees an exciting 2010 for the Islands Group because they will be launching a couple more brands under the group.