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Branding for beauty (Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year)
[March 12, 2007]

Branding for beauty (Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year)

(Business World (Philippines) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines has concluded its fourth year search for the country's most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. Supporting the program as strategic partners are the Asian Institute of Management, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Business for Social Progress and Philippine Stock Exchange.

Dioceldo S. Sy

Chief Executive Officer

Ever Bilena Cosmetics, Inc.

The brains behind one of the most popular cosmetics brands in the country is a man who spent most of his life in the beauty industry. Growing up, Dioceldo Sy learned about the trade through a pomade business his grandfather established in the 1950s. Mr. Sy and his family lived a comfortable life until his grandfather passed away. Mr. Sy's uncle, although young and inexperienced, eventually took over the business and shifted to cosmetics. Mr. Sy worked for his uncle until the company closed in the 1970s.

Jobless and without a college degree, Mr. Sy became a freelance trader by peddling anything to survive. In 1983, Mr. Sy thought of going back into cosmetics, the business he knew best. With all the money that he had earned from 1976 to 1983, which a-mounted to about P150,000, the 25-year-old Sy put up a small cosmetics company.

"I invested everything in that little trading company," says Mr. Sy.

He called it DSS Trading, the acronym of his initials. Mr. Sy imported nail polish from a Taiwanese brand that he partnered with, Ever Bilena (which means "forever beautiful girl" in Chinese). He would then repackage and sell the products to the Philippine market at a competitive price.

"Our operations have been repacking only. Everything was quite smooth from the start," he says.

In the early 1980s, imported cosmetics were a luxury and only those who could afford to do so wore makeup. Mr. Sy, however, believed Filipinas did not have to spend so much to look good and confident. To ensure that Ever Bilena offered high-quality yet affordable cosmetics, he tapped foreign suppliers and manufacturers that provided for global brands.

"All the global brands are doing the same thing," Mr. Sy explains.

As Ever Bilena faced fierce competition from Western brands, Mr. Sy found a niche by customizing cosmetics for the Filipina complexion.

"I discovered that branding and marketing were the name of the game," he adds.

Today, Ever Bilena is the No. 1 makeup retail brand in the country, overtaking foreign cosmetics brands. The brand caters mostly female clients in the B to D markets. From a nail polish line sold by a handful of employees in five outlets, Ever Bilena now offers 1,000 varieties of cosmetics, body care products, and beauty care accessories in department stores and major retail outlets nationwide.

It also markets Careline, a nail polish and cosmetics brand for teenagers and young adults, and Freestyle hair gel. The company hires a total of 920 employees, most of whom are frontline beauty consultants.

Mr. Sy says the company is winning, but still has a long way to go before achieving success. The biggest barrier to Ever Bilena's sales growth is the high cost of doing business with department stores and other retailers.

To alleviate this problem, the company intends to set up a direct sales division that will provide income-generating opportunities for housewives and micro-entrepreneurs. Once the system has been fully developed, dealers can sell a range of cosmetics and other products for women. Ever Bilena will also be expanding its product line to include a men's product line, skin care, hair care, body care, and fragrances.

The future certainly looks rosy for Mr. Sy. By 2008, he plans to bring the brand to Southeast Asia, particularly to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. To enter these markets, Mr. Sy is eyeing either a tie-up with a distributor or an acquisition of a small company with an existing brand. Ever Bilena is also considering expansion into overseas Filipino communities such as those in Dubai by 2009.

In the meantime, Mr. Sy is gradually professionalizing the company in order to sustain the business. In 2006, he changed DSS Trading's structure from a sole proprietorship to a corporation under a new name, Ever Bilena Cosmetics, Inc. The company is eyeing to go public as part of its professionalization.

On being an entrepreneur, Mr. Sy reveals that one has to be very frugal.

"I have to count each centavo every day. Even if you have the money, you hold on to it. It's so hard, especially if you started with nothing. You're always reminded of the difficulties," he says.

Mr. Sy admits that he is very fortunate to have been able to keep up with the changing times.

"The opportunities today and 20 years ago are so much different," he says.

He credits good foresight, timing, and gut feel to the brand's success. Inspired by his role models Henry Sy and John Gokongwei, the ever hardworking Dioceldo Sy shares these words of wisdom to future entrepreneurs: "It's easier to earn a peso from a million people rather than earning a million from a person."

Program sponsors of Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2006 are Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, Sun Life Financial and Microsoft Philippines. The official carrier is Air France-KLM. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2006 will be announced on March 20, 2007 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the 2007 World Entrepreneur Of The Year in Monte Carlo, Monaco on June 2, 2007. Entrepreneur Of The Year is produced globally by Ernst & Young.

Copyright 2007 BusinessWorld (Philippines). Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Asia Intelligence Wire.

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