Making a call to the furniture manufacturers and explain to them what we are going to provide.
Making a call to the furniture manufacturers and explain to them what we are going to provide.

My internship’s beginning

Starting my internship with the Hinrich Foundation was my first task for the year in 2015. It was good to be having another life experience in the big city after spending one semester in Laguna Province at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. Every time I come to Manila, I really enjoy seeing all the buildings, the traffic and many of the advertisement boards around the city. I really agree with one of my friends who said that Manila is a big marketing city when we were completing a marketing management assignment in my last two semesters. Little did I realize the marketing I would do during my time at the foundation in order to recruit new export suppliers to our program.

My internship started well. One of Hinrich Foundation staff, Export Constant Lycah Baylon, asked me to help with her task in the afternoon of that day.

“Why not!” I replied to her. “It sounds good and interesting, I am happy to join you”.

Harder than it looks

Before we started calling suppliers to join the foundation’s Developing Country Export Assistance Program, she gave me a little bit of an idea of her job and some of the difficulties she faces throughout her work. She explained the program worked to help the Philippines’ suppliers (including furniture manufacturers for the program’s current report) to promote the sustainable trade to international markets. The Hinrich Foundation will help these people who are interested in joining the program, posting their business profile and products online as well as marketing for them for free. It also provides them training on how to manage the inquiries from foreign buyers online.

It did not look too difficult to do, just make a call to the furniture manufacturers and explain to them what we are going to provide them if they are welling to participate in our program. In fact, it was not as easy as it seemed. Lycah only needed three furniture manufactures more to complete the report, but it took her many weeks to finish.

Calling suppliers

I joined her work for the first part of my internship. Every time she called the supplier, the most common things I heard from them were: “What is your organization is about?”, “Can you send us an email for the details?” and ”Can you call us back later?”.

She also had suppliers she already contacted before and wanted to follow up with them. The follow-up responses she most commonly received were “Sorry we have some problem with our email, can you send us email again?” or “Can you call us back again, as s/he is not in the office?” She would just follow up with them again and again and continue to have patience in answering to these questions.

One call I sat in on her with was a long conversation where the suppliers shared her feeling about the concept of this program. She told us that she was not sure if this program would help, as she was afraid her product would be copied from the other producers instead of helping them to reach the international market target. Lycah explained that in order to reach buyers and gain their trust, producers must show some of their products and that the best way to remain competitive in an international marketplace is to continue innovating, improving current products and releasing new ones to combat copiers.

After the conversation ended, Lycah and I discussed the problem of recruiting suppliers. She told me that with furniture, the suppliers are not as receptive to participate in the program as suppliers of other products like handicrafts, fabric and home décor were. She said that for expensive and effort-intensive products like furniture, allaying suppliers’ copying fears and conveying the importance of innovation and new products can be difficult. But she said the key was patience, persistence and clear explanations and examples of good practices.

How does this work help me?

Working to find suppliers helped me understand how they think and some of the difficulties they face. It also showed me that marketing and selling is not as easy as it appears, but when for a meaningful cause like sustainable trade, it is worth the effort

About the Author – Phiengphaneth-Chanthalangsy

Phiengphaneth-Chanthalangsy

Phiengphaneth-Chanthalangsy is a Hinrich Global Trade Leader Scholar from Laos PDR, taking her MS in Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).