PH exporters should focus on artisanship: foreign buyers

The revival of the handicraft industry and the distinct artisanal quality of Philippine-made products were highlighted by trade experts from the USA and Japan as the Philippines’ strength at the Manila FAME International trade show. The Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) invited experts from Japan’s Manufactured Imports and Investment Promotion Organization (MIPRO), and USA’s By Hand Consulting, and Materials ConneXion to share market strategies for Philippine manufacturers to gain more market access in foreign countries and help make Philippine export products more viable in the international market.
According to US market expert Colvin English, one of the areas the Philippines can explore is the production of green products that capitalizes on the Philippine artisanal products as an advantage. “The nature of production processes in the Philippines falls within renewable and sustainable. So much work here is done by artisans, using the hand, and it all falls in the green, sustainable, and fair trade models of business right now that is worth exploring,” said English, co-founder of By Hand Consulting, a USA-based firm that offers product design, marketing and training expertise to penetrate export markets.
Japanese market expert Kiyotaka Hishida, Director of Planning and Coordination Department of MIPRO, a Japanese company that explores business opportunities and promotes small lot imports, said indigenous Philippine materials and fine craftsmanship are the strong points of Philippine exports that would interest the Japanese market.  “The craftsmanship that Filipinos have is appealing for the Japanese consumers. Philippine products made from materials that are not available in the Japanese market, and very fine craftwork are the Philippine products’ strengths.”
He further noted that Philippine products do not need to compete with cheaper priced exports from neighboring Asian countries like China and Taiwan. “Products from China are widely-distributed and price wise, these are very cheap. If you cannot compete with Chinese products in terms of price, you should continue to develop products with high quality, because even if Japanese prefer lower-priced products, they also value quality especially for luxury items. So you don’t have to compromise quality for the price. And from what I’ve seen, Filipino craftwork is suitable for middle to high-end Japanese consumers,” Hishida added.
English agreed that while price is an important component to compete in the market, the Philippines should focus on different business aspects to become more competitive. “When we talk about the demands of the marketplace, we are talking about several categories: we look at design, we look at price, customer service, delivery. We have to compete in all of those areas in order for us to be more attractive, more competitive in the marketplace. So if you can’t compete on price effectively, you can highlight other aspects of your business: in the innovation, the design, the customer service, and the delivery aspects of your business.”
According to George Beylerian, international design visionary and Founder and CEO of Materials ConneXion—a global materials consultancy firm that offers the world’s library of advanced, innovative and sustainable materials and processes, there is more to the Philippine export industry that what it is now. “I don’t particularly share the feeling that everything you see in the Philippines should be cheap, but it takes a little bit of effort to change that concept in people’s minds because people want to come here because they want to buy cheap things. I feel this is a good time to tell people to come here for creativity, for innovation. As well as to make the Philippines known for its extraordinary material richness.”
In terms of meeting production quantities, English mentioned that the Philippines can very well address the export demand. “The Philippines has to match its target audience with its production capabilities. Perhaps it can’t work with the same type of buyer as China’s, but it doesn’t mean that buyers that are appropriate for that type of production capacities that it has available are not out there. There are a lot of buyers now that are looking for resources that have a more boutique-level production skill that can offer them a wider range of services, a wider range of product categories, with a more controlled production capacity.”
“And actually, the Philippines can produce for mass quantities. It has such a good network of artisans. It might be difficult to do so because it is working with less formal production settings than what it is dealing with in Southeast Asia. But it can be settled by just better determining the logistics and being realistic about it,” English related.
Organized by CITEM, Manila FAME is a trade show that showcased export quality Philippine products and also held business forums and meetings between Philippine exporters and the foreign trade experts.
“Aside from establishing the Philippines as a design destination in Asia, one of the main goals of Manila FAME is to provide local manufacturers with a venue to touch base with experts in foreign trade who can provide inside information on how to boost Philippine exports in their markets. This opens more opportunities for local manufacturers to be adept with market trends and hit export targets head on,” said Rosvi Gaetos, Executive Director of CITEM.
Manila FAME’s upcoming edition promises to be more exciting for buyers and visitors as the show is now dubbed as “A Design and Lifestyle Event”, scheduled from March 14 to 17, 2012 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.
The international trade experts further revealed market strategies that can help local manufacturers work well in the international market they are eyeing to penetrate. 
English opines, “Philippine manufacturers can become more competitive by being immersed in the international market and learning more about competitors and trends to address market needs. “I think understanding their customers’ needs better and presenting their product in a way that is familiar and comfortable to that target customer is the best way for them to penetrate any new market, particularly the US market.”