Papemelroti: Crafts business the Alejandros built
MANILA, Philippines – Corit Alejandro, the family matriarch, was always drawn to discarded things. She fashioned piggy banks out of empty bottles for the children, and stuffed toys out of fabric scraps. Her husband, Benny Alejandro, then peddled the latter to his officemates at Procter & Gamble.
In 1967, the Alejandros moved to their new home on the second floor of 288 Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City, and below it, the family’s queen of crafts set up shop. The place invited the curious with a “ring the bell to come in” sign. At first, customers were shocked to find nothing except the stuffed toys and some other merchandise that sat by the display window.
But with Corit’s touch, it did not remain bare and useless for long. The store, initially funded by Benny’s earnings and the couple’s savings, came to life with figurines, decoupage, and paper things – made through the collaboration of the husband, the wife, and their 5 kids: Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert, and Tina.
The siblings elected the business to be called Papemelroti, formed by the first syllable of each of their names. Their dad said, “How can it be successful if people can’t even pronounce the name, and can’t remember?”
Bootstrapping a crafts business
Forty-eight years later, the country’s hobbyists are reclaiming the commercial space for specialty arts and crafts, and Papemelroti stands out with its core offerings of handmade designs and concepts.
Its 17 stores across Mega Manila and Pampanga are sources of home, school, office, personal, and giveaway objects. It sells curios from woodcarving to jewelry, from metal craft to desk essentials.
The siblings are now running the family business with almost 5 decades of experience in the gift and decorative accessories industry.
Patricia “Patsy” Paterno says that as chief operating officer, she handles the “non-artistic” aspects such as finances. Peggy and Meldy, also designers, navigate human resources and merchandising.
The brand proudly carries the works of their brother Robert, award-winning graphic artist and former host of the television show Art is Kool. E-commerce, social media, and store displays are left in the hands of the youngest Tina, who used to be a floor-squatting, purchase-wrapping salesgirl in their second shop in Cubao’s Ali Mall.
Paterno admits that they have gotten many things wrong along the way. Nobody in the family had a business background in the beginning. Even so, Benny and Corit insisted that they would not borrow capital from the bank. “My mom was a good saver,” she recalled.
“What she earned, she would use to buy things like dolls in Divisoria to make dresses for. Eventually, when there were more customers, my dad would buy samples from abroad like Füger glass and miniature Artimpex animals and Christmas decor.”
Their mother balanced creativity with marketing determination. “When we made figurines, my mom would bring a sample in her bag, and we would visit stores in Makati City like Erehwon and Old Storehouse and Predictions, and she would show it to the owners. They were our first wholesale customers, I think. They liked how the figurines looked really crude and handmade,” shared Paterno.
Their father took a course on ceramics. Copper plaques of horses also piqued his curiosity, so he also learned how to make them look antique. He would be very happy if one of the pieces sold, as he sold it “very expensive.”
Selling self-expression, emotional connection
Papemelroti’s growth can be traced back to its unique creations, the family’s handiwork that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. It also developed a cult following among people who were moved by the inspirational text inscribed on the products.
The posters and positive sayings around the store helped one well-known broadcaster heal when her parents were separating, according to Paterno.
There is also the environmental thrust that underlies the business. “I support sustainable practices and technologies that promote the preservation of the environment. Because of this, I prefer environment-friendly products,” said Sheila Austero, an environmental engineer who has been a Papemelroti customer for around 10 years.
Finishing her postgraduate studies in the University of the Philippines, Austero jots down notes from journal articles she reads, as well as reminders and notes regarding experiments, in a Papemelroti notebook she received from a friend.
For almost half a century, the Alejandros have faced numerous challenges in starting and sustaining the business. But they have also witnessed their successes trickle down to others, even if this was not their intention at first.
Paterno remembers Connie, her sister Tina’s then-nanny. “[She] would also help out, and now she still works with us as the manager of our factory in Bulacan. We had another helper, Alice, and she also still works with us.”
Strengthening connections in the provinces, with suppliers and distributors alike, has helped Papemelroti gain a wider acceptance in the Philippines. Now, Paterno said she is studying how to license their products to companies abroad.
Three of Benny and Corit’s grandchildren have jumped in to create designs catering to a new generation – Paterno’s son and her niece, who are still studying, and Elyse, another niece who is a graphic design graduate from UP.
Paterno also hints at a new concept to watch out for in their main branch on Roces Avenue, Quezon City. “We will put up a gallery, a DIY section, and we will also develop workshops. We are also putting a new system into place which will help us grow,” she explained.
Perhaps Papemelroti is plotting its continuity for the next 50 years, or for as long as there will be discarded things to be fashioned into useful or wondrous objects.
“I have always said that being in business is an expression of the best of yourself, and since we are all one-of-a-kind, unique, then our business will be unique as well,” related Paterno.
“We cannot just copy other businesses. We always have to innovate and grow, always have new things and new ideas. We should keep fresh and relevant.” – Rappler.com
Shadz Loresco is a freelance business writer for both online and print. Follow her on Twitter @shadzloresco.