The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
Enter the e-Center
While businesses everywhere are closing their doors, laying off workers, cutting back on inventory, reducing salaries and hours, one business on Saipan has a slightly different strategy: they’re expanding by launching a second location!
Almost exactly one year ago (see Saipan Tribune archives, May 28, 2008), I interviewed Bernie Mabalot, sales agent and tech guru of the Inkbox, the printer ink/toner cartridge refilling station at the south end of Middle Road.
Bernie is also a savvy business strategist, who leads a small team of people to carry out his marketing, public relations and sales ideas to help grow the business. And grow it, they did. On the one-year anniversary of Inkbox’s launch, a new business, the e-Center, opened on March 14, 2009.
You might have seen the bright blue logo further north on Middle Road, across the street from Quick Print. (If you’re driving north on Middle Road, it will be on your left.)
So, a year later, I’m sitting once again with Bernie (who now has the distinction of being the first to have a double feature in the Saipanpreneur column). First, for those who do not know, Bernie is originally from Manila, has a wife and two children in the Philippines, and has been on Saipan for the past four years.
Walt: Refresh our memories, Bernie, what does the Inkbox do?
e-Center: A lot of people don’t know that rather than buy new printer cartridges and toners for your printers, you can refill them. The Inkbox offers printing supplies and support, as well as other printing consumables, refilling and remanufacturing of toners and printer cartridges. We do that for the public as well as private corporations.
Walt: Now then, what’s the new e-Center all about?
e-Center: First let me explain why it exists. Since we are a technology-based company, we deal with people all the time who have questions. Technology is so fast-paced, and there are so many gadgets and options, we realized that what people really need is advice. What’s the best printer to purchase? Is this technology right for my home or business? What’s the most economical way to do this? We educate people because there’s a lot of confusion in the market.
So, through the e-Center, what we’re doing is looking to maximize the use of these technologies within the market, and help people choose the right machines and technology for their business as well as personal use.
They don’t need to buy from us. They can get what they want from Megabyte, PC outlet and White Coconut.
We don’t charge for advice, or a diagnostic fee.
We’re actually a consumer advocate!
Walt: A consumer advocate? Explain.
e-Center: Let me give you an example:
Because we are in the industry, we know there are two particular models of printers being discontinued by Cannon and Hewlett Packard. Because we know the industry, we know these printers are more reliable, have a bigger ink tank, and a longer lifespan. They discontinued them, and are putting on the market replacements that are more expensive and more unreliable. So, we reserved an inventory of about 60 pieces of the [soon-to-be] discontinued models, which will be shipped to us here on Saipan. We review the specifications, and make sure we’ll have the right ink, and the right parts for at least three years. So, even though people everywhere else will have only the new models to choose from, here on Saipan we’ll be supporting a better model. So, we’re an advocate, looking to get you the best products, and we stay in business by giving you long-term support for those products.
We are trying to offer what the market is losing here: being consumer oriented. We want to give you the best choices.
Walt: Now that’s great for the public, but how does e-Center benefit?
e-Center: This is just the first month of our launch. So, we can’t accommodate all of the customers’ needs right away, but as we grow, we find out where the opportunity is, and what customers want and need.
Walt: What else does or will the e-Center offer?
e-Center: Since this is a second location, we also offer the same consumables [printer cartridges, toners, etc.] that are available at the inkbox, now a little closer to Garapan.
We are advancing step by step. As we educate and teach people, we will then have a more complete inventory and look for the opportunity that exists. Eventually, we’ll offer computer sales and repairs, parts, document printing, services and support, but we are not competing with Megabyte, PC Outlet, or White Coconut. They have the market dominance, and we need all of them once people make their choices.
We don’t want to undercut the competition; we want to augment the market. The other companies on island set the standard. They have the reputation. They have the integrity. But one company can’t carry all the inventory. What they can’t carry individually, we can carry as a group.
Meanwhile, the consumer can take advantage of that and get free advice, guidance and information and more choices.
Walt: It reminds me of the clothing, lighting, restaurant and diamond districts in New York, where vendors selling the same product all cluster in one area of town. It’s a strategy that focuses more attention on the industry, expands the category and generates more activity overall for everyone to benefit.
e-Center: Yes. We’re operating under the same concept of mutualism. We are all in the same industry. We need to maintain the standard that they have started, and we need to cooperate with each other. The whole industry [Technology Applications support] will benefit.
Walt: You’re expanding while others are contracting. What’s your secret?
e-Center: We run our business using a more entrepreneurial approach. We are a smaller group doing the decision-making and the doing. We don’t have excess fat, employees that we don’t need, resources that we don’t need. We are able to keep our inventory lean. Our employees are dedicated to reaching the goals we set.
Secondly, the goodwill of inkbox™ has already been established by giving the customer good warranties and meeting and exceeding their expectations, so they keep coming back.
Thirdly: our focus. When people get into trouble, they want to blame the circumstances, but it is the strategies and the tactics that really matter.
Also, good support from your partners, and constant prayer!
There’s really no secret.
At the inkbox, we had a lot of customers who are looking for information on computers and gadgets, and we are not able to accommodate that. So that’s why we’re expanding to fill that need and educate people.
As you mentioned in your book, Walt, the driving force is that we are actually running a passion-centered business, like you talk about. As a result, we are freer, and we can be as daring as we want to be.
Walt: Any grand opening specials?
e-Center: At e-Center, people can get information about computers, printers, and gadgets like e-readers, any technology before they spend their money. Also, we’ll be having the special sale on those printers, and computers starting about a month from now. People should e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 233-2009. We’d also like people to come to the store with their questions.
If they come to the store, they can get free advice, fill out a survey, and we have free wi-fi Internet access! We don’t charge a consultation or diagnostic fee.
Walt: Any final words of advice?
e-Center: Technology is so fast-paced that people are getting into trouble sometimes buying because of a company’s good marketing campaign, or just because it’s something new they think they really need. In order to make it through the economic situation, we have to educate and expand ourselves, but also work together so we all benefit as a group.
Walt: Well said. When the race is about survival, sometimes the best way to “win” that race is not to outrun your competition, but to bring the finish line closer so everyone gets there together!
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Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that said good things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to www.bestofsaipan.com!
Note: Fans and followers of Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan may now find copies at Bookseller Bookstore in the Joe-Ten Plaza in Susupe or on Amazon.com. Hurry, there’s a limited supply!
Note: For more tips on overcoming your fears, acting on your ideas, changing the game, and creating a passion-centered lifestyle, visit www.passionprofit.com!
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Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!