Whoever thought that driftwood would make the finest pieces of novelty furniture?
Maria Ivy Ang-Gabas, a business graduate of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, just did that.
Now, she has found her niche.
?I actually just buy driftwood to use for my own pieces,? she said.
Gabas makes furniture pieces from the driftwood she bought from people in the province who would collect them from the beaches and riverbanks.
?I buy it from them and then have my panday make it into my choice furniture like fruit platter for small pieces or a bench,? she said.
Her business started when friends would go to her house and buy her furniture pieces.
Then Ellie Tecson, a friend who works at the Department of Trade and Industry, raised the idea of turning her hobby into a serious business venture.
In 2003, she decided to go full blast.
She went to places where the pieces of driftwood were commonly found.
?These pieces of driftwood are of Mangkono species of wood which are endemic in the Philippines and found in what they refer to as the Mangkono Triangle,? she said.
The Mangkono (Xanthostemon verdugonianus) is hardwood that can only be found on Dinagat Island in Surigao, Homonhon Island in Samar and Babatngon in Leyte, and in Palawan.
?These are driftwoods and are often considered useless by people so what I did is designated collection outposts in Leyte, Samar and Mindanao where people could just drop by to sell their collected driftwoods,? she said.
These pieces of wood are then dried and cut into desired sizes and shapes. These are then made into furniture pieces like a bench, a dining table with chairs.
The wood is then dried. For smaller pieces, putting these under the sun is enough. But for larger ones, Gabas said they usually do kiln drying.
?Once dried, the (pieces of) wood are then cut but not with ordinary saws. We use diamond point saws to cut the (pieces of) wood as these are hard wood,? she said.
Gabas shared that cutting a 70-cm Mangkono wood would take two to four days while cutting an ordinary wood with the same thickness would only take minutes.
But her customers find her products appealing due to their simplicity and artistry.
Gabas has been joining trade exhibits organized by DTI and L.A. Ducut and Company.
She found most of her best clients during these trade shows, which proved to be the best marketing for her.
?Joining these exhibits for me is the best way to meet people who will eventually become your best buyers,? said Gabas.
?Take for example, my biggest buyer Mr. Sy of Hotong Hardware who owns the oldest house not only in Cebu but the whole Philippines. I met him during last year's Sinulog Export Overruns and Consumer Bazaar,? she said.
Gabas said this was the second year that she joined the annual Bazaar at SM City Cebu Trade Hall.
?For two years in a row now, my furniture pieces are doing good. Last year, I sold 80 percent of my whole inventory and this year I have already changed inventory twice since my first batch of displays are already sold out,? she said.
According to Gabas, she does indirect export sales with her foreign customers who go to her home to see her showroom.
She said she only assists in transporting the furniture from Cebu to the country of destination.
?I don?t really market outside directly because I know my inventory is limited,? she added.
Her raw materials ? the driftwood ? come in different shapes and sizes so that no two pieces of furniture are the same exactly.
Gabas said she caters to the middle-end to high-end market because her products are expensive.
?So the lesser people in the exhibit area, the more products I sell because rich people usually like to roam and shop around with lesser people,? she said.
According to Gabas, her business is already worth a thousand times more than her starting capital of P10,000.
Gabas said some people used to think that her products were substandard because these were made of driftwood in irregular shapes.
?But things have turned around now, and people are appreciating its uniqueness and the natural beauty that every piece effortly portray,? she said.
Gabas' products are sold from P500 to P250,000 like the dining set that was at the Trade Hall to Sy.
?It will be displayed at the oldest house which Mr. Sy is developing as a museum.?
Gabas said she planned to join trade shows outside of the country to meet more buyers.
?When they see my product, it's as if no matter how modern the building looks and you have one of my pieces on display, it gives you that feeling of being very close to nature. Something very natural and very light,? she said.