There’s no denying that the two-year pandemic ravaged the local and global economy and forced us to a standstill. And this is also where we saw the resilience of Filipino enterprises, which relied on social media, to keep the wheels running — with the help of platforms like PiliLokal.
Born during the pandemic, PiliLokal is a trading hub that features all-Filipino goods driven by the goal to help business owners and craftsmen in their marketing strategies. It is with the same mindset that US-based PiliLokal founder, Rizza Villaflor, decided to use her expertise in e-commerce to uplift more Pinoy businesspeople.
PiliLokal is a combination of the Tagalog words “pili” which means “to choose” in English and “local,” the vernacular for “local” — thus, urging more customers to choose Filipino products through the e-commerce platform.
“I built a network of talented people when I was doing events that became my business partners eventually. I assigned the heads of my team based on their expertise,” the Pinay entrepreneur shared, adding that she planned out the nitty-gritty details of establishing the company from the logo, name, and the overall concept of the branding.
The e-commerce platform also helped them cut costs during the initial phase of the startup since funding was limited. It was heir collective dedication and inspiration to create something for Filipinos.
Her initial startup was an events and marketing agency back in 2017. After that, she moved to New York because of a partial scholarship she received to do an MBA program.
After finishing her MBA during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Villaflor started PiliLokal — a challenge she decided to face bravely.
The global economic downturn was also a reason for Villaflor to devote herself to PiliLokal. She has seen people lose their jobs, companies shut down, and everyone struggling to make ends meet. So why not do something proactive to address this, she asked herself.
“That’s the moment I realized that creating (a local platform) is not impossible since we have the capability to do it on our own, as long as our endeavor is fully supported by the government, and private and public organizations that are thinking alike,” she said.
Initiating the growth
PiliLokal abides by its own standards when it comes to championing Filipino products. The merchants it hosts were gathered within the following criteria: must be Filipino-owned (at least majority of the shares), utilizes local raw materials and organic byproducts, and renders a large portion of its production in the Philippines. Pretty decent goals, if you consider how consumers tend to prefer imported or mass-produced goods.
PiliLokal carries different products of varying types such as health essentials, homeware, clothing, accessories, event supplies and even delicacies. It not only helps Filipino merchants, but it also starts the conversation on the importance of having locally produced goods as our first choice.
The e-commerce platform also helped them cut costs during the initial phase of the startup since funding was limited. But apart from Villaflor being based in New York and having her team in Manila, it was their collective dedication and inspiration to create something for Filipinos that drove them to make PiliLokal what it is today.
“At the end of the day, I can see that they are also motivated and inspired by what they are doing since there is a certain fulfillment in every task that they perform. We are not merely disruptors,” Villaflor said with pride.
A hub for creative thinkers
As the pandemic led Filipino consumers to explore e-commerce and other digital platforms, PiliLokal helps SMEs in the country to be exposed to a wider audience by promoting what the country is known for—agriculture, forestry and fishing, as well as assembly-line manufacturing and automation.
“In Pili’s area of expertise, businesses will be able to establish locally sourced, handcrafted goods. Local sellers can use this e-commerce platform to grow their enterprises in their neighborhood,” Villaflor said. A good example of this would be regions having their own representation in offerings: Benguet for strawberries, Marikina for shoes, Pateros for Balut, Batangas for Barako coffee, to name a few.
A key goal is to present Pililokal as an online platform, to showcase Filipino artisan/producers locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
“PiliLokal will be inculcated in our culture. It’s a lifestyle, a way of life,” promises Villflor. “Supporting the local industry will create opportunities, especially to the untapped market from one region to another.”
It’s no surprise that when the pandemic hit, the Philippines was among the countries most affected by trade deficits. To address this, PiliLokal turns to organic resources, namely, abaca, coconut, rattan, canes, corals, and pearls.
According to Villaflor, the rise in online shopping in the country brought about by the pandemic allowed the Philippines to catch up with the more advanced digital world.
“This trend will benefit emerging local merchants by continuing to grow e-commerce players and presenting them with unique business opportunities,” she said. “The corporate message of the company aims to solve three challenging problems: (1) What are Filipino products, (2) who are the Filipino merchants, and (3) where do they sell?”
With these projections in mind, Villaflor shared that they are currently in the process of building another site for the US market.
“PiliLokal US will serve the Filipino communities in the United States. Anyone will be eligible to join the platform as long as they are Filipinos and they create and sell their own products,” Villaflor plans, adding that exporting would be the second leg of their long-term goal.
PiliLokal PH will export Philippine products to the US once the logistics are already set. This way, they can easily import goods when both sites are operating in the Philippines and US.
As they plan to map out and venture in every part of the world in the next three to five years, PiliLokal’s objectives will align with the various political, economic, legal and environmental factors.
“Our effort is not only highlighted by the platform, but also by the producers behind the initiative. This community is vital to the realization of this vision,” Villaflor said. “Filipinos are everywhere. Imagine having multiple hubs in various countries. This community is vital to the realization of this vision. A key goal is to present Pililokal as an online platform, to showcase Filipino artisan/producers locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.”