Do you remember walking into a toy store for the first time, and having a hard time choosing which doll, toy car, card game, or stuffed animal you’d want to bring home to play with?
Chances are all of them were brought to the Philippines by Myrna Yao, whose companies Richprime Global, Inc. and Richwell Trading Corporation famously introduced Barbie to the country. For the past four decades, Richprime provided toys such as Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and Disney to generations of Filipino children.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, brought a great challenge to them as retail stores closed down. With the help of two of her daughters, Yao began thinking of new, creative ways to continue to bring happiness to children around the country with their toys.
Read on how Yao and the people at Richprime handled the effects of the pandemic, innovated with the New Normal, and worked with her family in this Q&A from the Create. Modern Tao Ke. | Mindanao Edition session.
Q: Can you tell us what your business is about and what you do?
A: Richprime Global has been in the business for more than thirty years. It’s actually the fortieth anniversary on Monday (July 27), and we have been building with children’s products like Barbie, Hot Wheels, and about forty brands of toys. We have baby products like Chicco, Joie, and Sanosan from Germany. We have shoes – we have Barbie, Fisher-Price, and Ollie shoes. We have been in business because my vision is really my love for children. The passion is to be able to serve and to be able to give every child a happy childhood. That also transcends to the parents; when the children are happy, the parents are happy.
Now, my two daughters are helping me – Ana Melissa and Jenny Jane. It’s also good because Jacinto [Ng Jr., Group CEO of Joy-Nostalg Group] gave us his view as a second-generation [Chinese-Filipino], and [as] a first-generation, [they shared] what we can expect from them, what they expect from the parents, and how they deal with them.
Q: You were supposed to take over your family business, but then you started your own business. Why did you decide to do that?
A: My father is very [traditionally] Chinese in such a way that he always gave the business to the son. I made the business grow, but when my brother graduated, I had to turn over the business to them, and I had to start my own, because it’s tradition. I love my father, and I know that was [a] given, so I [was] open to it. I prepared the business for my brother, and that how it worked, but God blessed me because of probably the good deeds that I did, and he was able to guide me all the way.
Q: Are you planning the same approach when passing on to the family in the future also? Would you want the business for your kids? What’s your plan?
A: I have no son, only daughters. Of course, it should go to my daughters. Now, I’m preparing my grandchildren to be the ones to take over after them. For my daughters and my grandchildren, I always trained them at a very young age. In fact, when they reach ten years old, I travel with them to China to look at the factories, train them one-on-one – only the two of us – because there’s more concentration. I always tell them my secret: “Always look deeper in everything that you see, so that you’ll be creative. You can think better. Don’t just accept whatever you see. You think beyond,” so they can be trained as young as they are to be able to assess and analyze and do things better than what they see, and think out of the box.
Q: Has the current pandemic affected your business’ management?
A: I thought that the toys would be affected. Thank God, we’re still at 50% of our sales from 2019, which I didn’t expect, because I thought it would only be 30%. We’re doing strongly online, and when the toy stores open, sales were also good. During the pandemic – March and April – we were able to sell a lot of inflatables even though everything was closed. Everything was online.
The one that was really affected is the shoes, because children cannot go out and play with their shoes. In the pandemic, we learned a lot of things. We were able to expand our online business. I think that is the future. My daughter Liza is very much into it. We started a small logistics company that we’re servicing deliveries right now. At least there’s something that comes in. You have to look at opportunities. I’m also looking at opportunities abroad at the same time.
Q: Is learning Mandarin and Hokkien essential for running a business better?
A: It might not be as strong right now, but it is still essential. Learning Mandarin in China is growing. It is still a big advantage when there is a relationship. When you talk with the Chinese, and you can converse in their language, there’s more of a fluid relationship that you can easily impart to each other, so business is much better and beneficial.
Q: What are some of the innovations that you turned to for your business to thrive in the pandemic?
A: This is a time to really strengthen our marketing online, because mostly we’re on TV, we’re in events, and our online marketing is only about 50% of the total budget, but now it’s gearing more towards 70%. I think it’s good training, because it’s the future. These challenges give us more leeway into strengthening the side of digital or online marketing, not only sales. This is the opportunity that we were able to grow with. We also have more people trained online. Facebook is also training my people. This is also a good way of transforming the company into a different path and in a different direction.
Q: With everything that is happening, what is your biggest takeaway so far in managing a family business during these uncertain times?
A: I was able to think [about] whether I would retire or not. I was able to discuss this with my daughters. We have to have a strategy on what to do, because I cannot live without working. I love my job, I love my work, so I said, “Maybe I’ll retire at 85,” but I want to give a chance to my daughters that they have to excel on their own. And they’re excelling now, but it’s still different when you leave everything to them.
Surely I’ll still be part of it, because as I told you, I can’t live without working. I still go to the office three times a week, and still manage and work at home. It has been my life. If you tell me to stop working, I don’t think I can, but I have another vision of something I want to do.
I love agriculture, and I love farming. That is the next stage of my life that I will devote [to]. I already prepared a property in Bulacan that I want to expand in agriculture. Although I am from Bicol, [and] we have lots of property in Bicol, it’s still different if it’s just near. I’m going to donate a few hectares for the women to plant and grow agriculture, so that is the next step.
Q: Which among your family businesses do you consider the most collaborative amongst family members?
A: It’s mostly the same, but it’s really more of the toys, because 50% of our business comes from toys (I would say 40%, because we also have baby products). I always like to entertain new ideas. I’m probably considered more like a modern entrepreneur that when my daughters have new ideas, I always try to experiment. You learn from your mistakes when you try something, and it’s part of learning. I don’t like ideas that are common. In fact, I want new ideas every year, everything in different ways. That is probably one reason why we grow, because we need to be innovative. We cannot just be like last year, or the other year. We have to go forward and be ahead of the market.
Q: You mentioned that we should invest in online and digital. Do you think non-online platforms are still relevant or significant today?
A: I think we have to be innovative when going to non-online structures because things change a lot and the new norm will soon affect it. Right now, I always believe that even in the digital world, we still need to do something that is not there. You have to be ahead, so much so that we have to think that since the retail, non-online business will be affected, there will still be an opportunity. We have to think out of the box on how you can take advantage of whatever is there. In every crisis that I’ve been through since the 70s, the 80s, I always try to be optimistic. I grow where there is crisis. You think out of the box. You are always ahead. You take that as an opportunity. Like the time during the EDSA Revolution, when people were leaving, I did not leave. In that case, think ahead in such a way that you make the crisis an opportunity.
In the Create. Modern Tao Ke. webinar, Myrna Yao shows how hard work, coupled with innovation and proper succession, enable her to ensure that children’s happiness will be future-proof.
The Create. Modern Tao Ke. | Mindanao Edition was the third webinar under the Saludo SMEs Campaign presented by Globe myBusiness in cooperation with CHiNOY TV. Through the Saludo SMEs campaign, and the resulting webinars, Globe myBusiness equipped the Chinese-Filipino community with the right knowledge and business solutions to rebuild their businesses, especially at this time where many Tao Kes are in the middle of reopening their doors in the new normal.