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Business Is Where You Find It

All you need is a capital, an idle time, and a keen eye for the next big thing



Business blood runs in my veins. My paternal and maternal grandfathers were entrepreneurs, one in commercial fishing and the other in jeepney manufacturing. And they both supported my first business venture at the age of eight.



It all started during the 1953 summer vacation when I noticed that, at the dock in Paranaque, fish caught by grandpa’s big boats were classified and priced according to variety and size. Most expensive were large lapu-lapu, maya-maya, apahap, talakitok, kitang, sabalo, and dorado, followed by banak, torsilyo, kabayas, matang baka, buwan-buwan, galunggong, and tamban. Other varieties got lumped with assorted small fish left at the bottom of the banyera (fish basin) and were all sold to vendors as mixed rejects at P4 per gallon.

As each gallon of rejects, including dagdag, contained four kilos of fresh, perfectly good fish, I saw an opportunity to make a profit. I asked our neighbors if they would pay 70 centavos for half a kilo of fresh fish, with free ingredients thrown in. At least 10 households agreed. My jeepney-maker grandfather agreed to lend me P5 after hearing my business plan.

The loan paid for my transport (10 centavos roundtrip to the dock), fish (P4), assorted ingredients (50 centavos for onions, garlic, hot pepper, tamarind, kamyas, and ginger). Classifying the rejects according to size and kind improved their appearance and increased their value.

The seafood assortment included soft-shell crabs I sold to a carinderya as pakot for cooking vegetables, and a few cups of small shrimp were bought by the okoy vendor. My first day sales totaled P7, dropped to P6 the next day, and rose to P8 by Day 3. The profits piled up daily and I repaid my loan before the week was over.

I soon found out I could not sell fish daily. My neighbors wanted no fish for Sunday, so I offered pork head kare-kare, which many agreed to. The following Sunday, it was paksiw na pata, then tinola, menudo, and bistek. I profited from buying wholesale.

All through the summer vacation, I bought and sold fresh produce for our neighbors’ meals while saving money earned from my small business. When school re-started in June, I had to close shop. I earned enough that summer to buy Christmas presents for family and friends.

My first day sales totaled P7, dropped to P6 the next day, and rose to P8 by Day 3. The profits piled up daily and I repaid my loan before the week was over.


ukay ukay

By 1960, I was in college on a very strict weekly allowance that left no room for clothes and fashion accessories. Colored sneakers were the rage, bought in the US by affluent classmates. Local rubber shoes came mostly in white, destined for PE classes.

When I saw a Cartimar store selling US-made RIT cold water dye, I bought two pairs of white local rubber shoes and dyed them purple and red. They were an instant hit in the Diliman campus. I was dyeing and selling dozens of pairs a week before copycats ruined the market.


Mirror Magazine feature writer Bibsy Carballo was the envy of everyone when she returned from US studies in the mid-1960s wearing fashionable skirts and jackets made of velvety corduroy, a material that was difficult to find locally. She suggested going to used clothes stores as they often had brand new donated stuff from entities like Goodwill, an American charity. Photographer Romy Vitug, a Manila native, took us to the Bambang Public Market where I found antique lace, silk, embroidered clothing, and leather bags, which I tinkered with to produce unique trendy stuff.

A few years later, I had opened Manila’s first boutique offering recycled apparel, antique jewelry, handmade bags, tribal beads, and repurposed household items. Sulaiman Boutique, though no bigger than a hole in the wall, was featured on magazine covers and frequented by the country’s top fashion designers and store buyers. Many of our items continue to be in vogue today.


My son Albert packs homemade meals to work, despite full meals provided by the call center to its staff. His pasta Alfredo, Tagalog bistek, and special shawarma have become such big hits among officemates who now prefer his stuff than anything from Foodpanda or Grabfood. For birthdays, they order his flat noodle pancit and cheeseburgers. The small profit he makes is added to his daughters’ college funds. Indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

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