Plush and Play: Interview with Fabien Courteille

I have heard so many great stories about people starting social entrepreneurship businesses. Two of my friends have successful social entrepreneurship businesses, Ron and Nikki or Bayani Brew and Kat of Aurelia and Amelia!

Today, I’m so proud to share with you a story of another founder who started a social entrepreneurship business called Plush and Play. His name is Fabien Courteille.

The Fabien Courteille Story

I was born on January 29, 1989 to a middle class family in Normandie, France and was raised by loving and caring parents. After graduating in a science high school, I took up Bachelor of Business Administration in a public school before migrating to the south of France to take up Master in Entrepreneurship. At the age of 21, I was still looking for a real concrete business idea to start with and was questioning the role of businesses in the society in terms of ethics, social and environmental responsibility.

I have been looking for my purpose and to be able to do something meaningful with my life when I heard about Gawad Kalinga’s social entrepreneurship vision. I started out as a volunteer when I first came to the Philippines. After being immersed in the countryside, I have experienced the world-famous Filipino hospitality. I was living with the GK beneficiaries, sharing meals with them (Adobo every meal… haha!) and sleeping under the same roof while having absolutely nothing in common with them. They taught me how to expand my definition of family.

My foster mother was an orphan at an early age but still managed to take care of herself. She eventually became a seamstress in a factory until she lost her job due to the retrenchment of the manufacturing facility like many others. Her undying commitment and love for her children to be able to have a good education was her driving force to take any underpaid and limiting opportunities in order to earn a few pesos. Often times, her earnings were still not enough to provide for their meals. I found it unfair that millions of mothers in the Philippines are exactly like her – too much effort on really strenuous physical activities with a bad compensation system. Basically, I just wanted to give them a real chance to succeed. 🙂

Interview with Fabien of Plush and Play

Ginger: Hi Fabien! Can you tell everyone what your business is all about?

Fabien: Plush and Play is a social enterprise born in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, highlighting the undervalued sewing skills of the mothers of Bulacan to create proudly Filipino toys. Ultimately, we envision to be the leading Filipino global toy company inspiring generations of young heroes and nation builders and contributing to the ultimate goal of Gawad Kalinga which is to end poverty in the country for 5 million families by 2024. Our major goals are to provide sources of income for over 500 poor families in the countryside, to inspire a new generation of Filipino children, to improve local standards in the toy industry and to make the Philippines a country where no children will ever grow up without toys.

Being based in a farm, our first line of products is composed of fruits and vegetables with names inspired by local icons like Manny Pakwan, Buko Martin, and Anne Kamatis. We also make customized plush giveaways or mascots for companies like Maynilad, Landbank, Shell, Accenture, Mentos, etc.. Moreover, we conduct toy making activities in order to teach kids how to handcraft their very own plush toy.

Our tagline is “Hand-Stitched with Love, Stuffed with Dreams!”

Ginger: Who is your target market? Why did you choose this market? Can you give us the insight behind this market?

Fabien: Our target market is three-fold:

  • We target socially responsible, nurturing and loving mothers. We offer them affordable, socially responsible and safe products handcrafted with love and inspired by Filipino values and sense of humor, unlike imported toys from China that are of poor quality and many of which are also hazardous to their kids’ health.
  • We target corporations and government agencies that want to strengthen and reward the loyalty of their clients and employees by gifting them with original giveaways. We offer them highly customizable and world-class quality products made with love.
  • Finally we target the young at heart, mostly with age demographics between ten to twenty years old, that want cute, fun and meaningful items like toys, keychains, tote bags, pouches, etc…

Ginger: How did you come up with this idea? What made you decide to start this kind of business?

Fabien: I chose this industry for three main reasons:

(1) To restore the sewing industry

First, the province of Bulacan used to be the Philippines’ pride when it comes to sewing and garments but over the past decade hundreds of factories have been closing down and thousands of mothers have lost their jobs and were left behind with the only option of becoming domestic workers in Manila or abroad. There were mothers in the community who used to be seamstresses but were left jobless when big textile companies started outsourcing their production to China or Cambodia.

(2) To come up with safe toys

Second, we realized that the local market was flooded with low quality imported products, including children’s stuffed toys without any connection to the local culture.

(3) My love and fondness for kids

And lastly, I was becoming the godfather of plenty of kids in the community and I never knew what to offer them. Inspired by the thousands of kids in the GK Communities, I went for the idea of creating stuffed toys.

Ginger: Were there any obstacles that you faced when you decided to pursue becoming an Entrepreneur? What are these? What are the greatest challenges in putting up and maintaining a business in your country?

Fabien: Well, I believe being an entrepreneur is all about facing obstacles and finding ways to overcome them every day. My role is to keep the business running, to continue growing it and to reach out to more beneficiaries. We started venturing into an industry where I was totally ignorant, I have never used a sewing machine before coming to the Philippines so a lot of things had to be learned by doing.

Since I am not Filipino I have to deal with the various restrictions in the Philippines in terms of ownership, position or signatory rights and it is not necessarily easy.

We also started our company without capital. We started with only five thousand pesos so our team had to be extra careful on how to spend every peso and make sure to get the best value out of it. If you can’t afford anyone to do something, you need to do it yourself.

The industry that we are part of is very seasonal so we need to keep on finding ways to keep our cashflow in a good position for the rest of the year. Moreover, this is a market flooded by extremely cheap products so we also have to show and create more value for the customers to be able to generate more sales.

Since we are a social enterprise, we deal with communities everyday. Everything that happens within the community and their household affects the operations of the company and vice versa. Of course having fifty families living and working together creates a lot of situations, tensions and arguments therefore it is always difficult to keep it professional.

Ginger: What are three traits that you think an Entrepreneur/Startup Founder should have when starting their own business?

Fabien:

  1. He or she should be committeed. It is not a hobby and it is more than a full time job.
  2. He or she should learn how to surrender himself/herself with the right people as it takes a team to run an organization.
  3. He or she should lead by example, be ready to do whatever job needs to be done and definitely understand the needs of all stakeholders (customers, the beneficiaries, staff , etc…)

Ginger: Unforgettable moments or lessons that you learned as an Entrepreneur/Startup Founder

Fabien: One of the most unforgettable moments is when we brought the first Filipino toy to Toy Kingdom. It was a big statement and a big celebration for our seamstresses. We were also the only Filipino brand to take part in the toy expo held at SMX Convention Center. On a personal note, making it to the Top 5 of the BPI Sinag out of 150 entries was something to remember as well.

It was very important for me to understand the situation of the mothers in order to properly work with them and support them. Since I am not a Filipino, nor a woman nor a mother, I thought to be with them for the past six years to ensure that I can connect with them and to fully understand their needs. Aside from that, I knew that I had to make them experience things outside of their usual environment so they can also understand the concepts of quality control, excellence, and customer expectations. We would take them to Manila from time to time and have a fieldtrip for them to see other products in high-end malls like Rockwell. Until today, I am still striving to understand their needs and vice versa. It is a constant learning experience for all of us as our enterprise continues to grow and thrive.

Ginger: What advice can you give to other Entrepreneurs?

Fabien: My advice is something that I have heard so many times before which is to not give up! Furthermore, one should not compromise or take shortcuts. It takes hard work and integrity to build a solid enterprise to be proud of. Do not mind the negative comments or words of discouragement because the more people say that you are crazy the more you should move forward. After all, the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs in history were either crazy or different so there is nothing wrong about it. HAHA

Ginger: Do you believe that everyone should become entrepreneurs?

Fabien: I believe that everyone should be entrepreneurial, be pro-active, and be on the look out for innovative ideas wherever you work or whatever position you hold because this is what the organization needs to constantly improve. However, I am not sure if everyone should start their own enterprise because running an enterprise is not easy and is not a one man show. You need to bring in people into your organization that have complimentary skill sets in order to move forward with the over-all company objective.

Ginger: What are ways that you can do to raise capital?

Fabien: From the beginning we have been financing all our operations through our cash flow. This is achieved based on our own sales revenues and we just received two sets of grants to build our new workshop of about three hundred square meters in Bulacan. This will allow us to increase production capacity, which would have a potential increase in revenues.

In addition, because of being one the winners of the BPI Sinag competition, the bank gave us access to their credit line whenever we feel the need to make a loan. Also, we have been able to establish preferential payment terms from some our clients such as fifty percent down payment since they understand our commitment to pay the salaries of our community partners on a weekly basis compare to the usual 30 to 90 days payment terms.

Aside from these, several investors have approached us and we plan to open our capital to new equity investment from impact investors this year. This will be used to invest in opening our own concept store in the city, improving our marketing efforts and increasing our staff members.

Ginger: How do you market your products? Growth strategy?

Fabien: We sell our regular toys at the GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. Since we know that the market is in Metro Manila we have partnered with several retail stores that are carrying our products. These are Toy Kingdom SM Megamall, The Parenting Emporium, The Philippine Artisan Trade, Yiippee Store, Able Store, and Hop/Bop Shop. Another growing platform in the country is online sales so we established and partnered with some online sites such as our own website, Lazada, Shopinas, and The Good Store. We also sell in bazaars and sometimes participate in a corporate road show.  All in all, we are currently retailing in 6 outlets in Metro Manila with the possibility to expand to thirty-seven other Toy Kingdom outlets. We are also looking into starting a partnership with Toys ‘R Us in the near future.

Another sales channel is creating customized giveaways for corporations or individuals (special gifts, event giveaways, etc). We also started organizing tailored community outreach programs with our corporate partners. Our biggest revenue comes from our corporate clients, some of which have contracts that are as big as twenty thousand dollars. GK is working with 700 corporations and other private institutions. Among this number, we have engaged with over 30 corporations already but our margin for growth is extremely high as we are reaching out to more of them every week.

We have also started making school mascots with the prestigious school of De La Salle University, with over thirty thousand student population with hundreds and thousands of alumni which are now key decision makers in the country. Once successful, we will then replicate this model and work with other private schools in the country.

Aside from selling products, we also conduct toy making workshops and activities for schools and other celebrations. It is a growing channel right now.

In marketing, we leverage the networks of Gawad Kalinga and the parenting community such as The Parenting Emporium. We also greatly use our own social media channels to gain more awareness about the company.

Partners in Malaysia, Singapore, United States and Europe have approached us already to expand beyond the Philippines. This is a key step to a future regional expansion and eventually outside of South East Asia.

Ginger: What are tech tools that you use for your business?

Fabien: We are mostly active online: We have our own wordpress website and eshop. We are also proactive on social media including Facebook Ads.

Ginger: Thank you Fabien for that wonderful story. I’m sure other people who want to start their own social enterprise learned a lot from reading this! Thank you for sharing your talent and for helping the Philippines in ways you know how.

If you want to know more about Plush and Play, here are their contact information and links:

Website: www.plushandplay.com

Email address: plushandplay@yahoo.com

Mobile Number: 09175264941

Facebook Page: https://web.facebook.com/PlushAndPlay

Instagram account: http://instagram.com/plushandplay

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/plushandplay/

 

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