After a few stops and starts, Mójo sandals and slippers are once again walking forward.
Mójo slippers and sandals came to be because its founder, Joey Cuerdo, a member of the UP Mountaineers club at the University of the Philippines, needed a sturdy, inexpensive pair of sandals for outdoor climbing. Back in 1991, Mr. Cuerdo and his friends were using regular rubber slippers that didn’t have enough traction for muddy trails.
The next best alternative was a P1,500-pair of Teva sandals — too expensive for a student’s allowance. Mr. Cuerdo, then 21 years old, decided to craft the first Filipino-made sandals designed especially for the outdoors.
"I’ve always had the knack for finding out what’s needed," says Mr. Cuerdo. "I think that’s the key in putting up a new business — figuring out what’s not there. And if you fill that vacant space with what people need, they will buy [your product]."
Joey Cuerdo, founder of Mojo slippers and sandals
At UP Los Baños, his usual route to class took him along a string of slipper supply shops. After a talk with a few shopkeepers, Mr. Cuerdo calculated that the cost of making a pair of sandals himself would be roughly one-tenth the price of a pair of Teva sandals. With an initial capital of P350, he bought shoemaking tools and materials, but his first handcrafted pair did not turn out as expected.
"What I made didn’t look good," says Mr. Cuerdo. "So I looked for a shoemaker in Marikina who could transform my ideas [into something more easy on the eyes]. I wanted to make it a bit different from Teva sandals. I didn’t want to hit on a patent. So I put a few buckles here and there. And to me, [the finished product] performed better."
He had another eight pairs made for a few acquaintances, which he sold for P185 a pair — an P85 peso markup. In the next six months, large demand for the sandals from the outdoor recreation community prompted him to start producing them in bulk and selling them a dozen at a time for P250 a pair, with his co-mountaineers as his unofficial sales agents.
"People actually thought Mójo was an imported brand because there was no Filipino product like it in the market," says Mr. Cuerdo. "We also made sure the sandals were [presentably] packaged with a nice tag made by a printing press, not just printed from a computer printer."
For the next 10 years Mojo would be run in an informal setup, with Mr. Cuerdo as its sole proprietor. "I’m not a corporate person and it showed in how Mojo was managed. I would often go, ’I have to pay this? Okay.’ Then I’ll get money from my pocket. There were no records, no paper trail to speak of."
In 1994, Mr. Cuerdo put up Power Up Climbing Gym in Tandang Sora, Quezon City, a venture that sidetracked his sandals business. It would take only three years for other emerging local sandal brands to take over the market, and another four before Mr. Cuerdo, overwhelmed by Mojo’s losses, decided to pitch his sandals to investors. Mojo was snapped up by four investors in 2006, and for a time its goods were sold and distributed by Outward Bound Gear, Inc. (OBG), a firm that they and Mr. Cuerdo put up.
The setup, however, proved too corporate for Mr. Cuerdo. "It was a classic case of big company style — before you made a move, you had to go through this step, then this step. There were a lot of procedures, and everyone wanted a say in the operations." The group didn’t jell, and in 2008, his partners decided to sell him their stakes in OBG. It didn’t help that the oil crisis that year, which caused the prices of raw materials to rise, discouraged potential buyers from taking over Mr. Cuerdo’s sandals firm.
Poised for a comeback
Mojo’s revival lay in one of its variants, the flip-flop, which has been gaining popularity as a casual footwear since stylish slippers like the Brazilian brand Havaianas hit local shores. Amidst local competition that include Sandugo, Tribu, Banana Peel and Reva, Mr. Cuerdo claims that Mojos, reintroduced to the market in September last year, are starting to sell well again. "[A telltale sign is that] stores have been putting [our displays] in front. Products that sell well are always pushed up to the front to entice customers."
In February, the firm increased its target monthly production output to 10,000 flip-flop pairs, and its net sales soared to P1 million a month. Mojo’s production is completely outsourced — 80% to factories in Metro Manila and 20% to a small shoemaking shop in Marikina, with whom Mr. Cuerdo has worked for years. The rubber is harvested in Bukidnon, processed, then sent to the metro where the slippers are assembled. Only the nylon is imported.
Fifty-one concessionaire stores — including Toby’s, Planet Sports and Olympic Village — sell Mojo products through OBG in Metro Manila, and 20 shops, handled by an agent, distribute them in the Visayas-Mindanao area. All retailers coordinate via SMS and e-mail, making technology an integral part of Mr. Cuerdo’s business.
Mojo’s Web page at social networking site Multiply has also been upgraded to a proper Web site with its own URL. "[Having online presence] eliminates the expense and time delay of having to send actual samples [to the provinces]," he said.
Mr. Cuerdo aims to equal his competitors by yearend and plans to bring Mojo to nearby Brunei in the near future. "We just have to keep the production up and make aggressive designs so we can expand more."
Still the corporate deviant, Mr. Cuerdo currently has full control over Mojo’s operations, with his new investors taking charge of the firm’s financial records. He and his staff of seven are stationed at the firm’s Quezon City office, handling operations and packing, and five sales representatives make the rounds at the stores. To keep costs down, he says he makes sure that his employees are working at their peak before he hires new ones.
Mr. Cuerdo himself draws up new sandal designs, oversees production in factories and calls his retailers to get updates on which products are selling. "I also reuse leftover materials for new designs. That way, nothing is wasted and we save money," he said.
Instead of waiting for a sales report, he relies on feedback from four or five stores to give him the go signal to step up production of a particular design. "Replenishment should happen immediately before the rack runs empty. But the purchase order process takes a while. Then, we have the [added] problem of shipping. By the time the replenishment order arrives, the rack is already empty and people looking for Mojo may have purchased other brands already. Opportunity losses are highest in this area," he said.
Such swift decision making works for small businesses, he added, because their financial exposure is minimal. "It’s based more on just gut feel, because I do a lot of asking, talking to store supervisors and my sales staff in the field. But there is still risk."
His adventure trips — surfing, rock climbing, road trips — allow him to test his products himself and to acquaint himself better with Mojo’s market. Formal marketing is done through Power Play Events Management, which Mr. Cuerdo also owns.
The events planning firm works with the Department of Tourism (DoT) in conceptualizing events — like partying over a weekend at a beach in La Union — to help local governments jump-start tourist interest in their area. Mojos come in as an added incentive for travelers. "In some occasions, participants may get a discount if they register at the event wearing Mojo slippers or sandals," said Mr. Cuerdo. They can also be handed out as freebies.
The outdoor footwear also helps spread Mr. Cuerdo’s advocacy. "Go out to see and appreciate what the Philippines has to offer. [More importantly] go local. Keep the money in the Philippines."
Mojo Slippers and Sandals is located at 3/F Balai Lakbay 2 Alondras St. cor. Congressional Ave., Mira-Nila Homes, Tandang Sora, Quezon City. For details and inquiries, visit www.mojosandals.com.
Raul L. Locsin Building I
95 Balete Drive Extension,
New Manila, Quezon City,
Extensions: 706, 709-711
Direct Line: (632)535-9923
Fax No.: (632)535-9925
Email: New Media Group