Antonio Gomez saw the potential in woodworking while working with his German brother-in-law at the latter’s modest shop in Cubao in the 80s. As a business partner, Gomez believed they could make the mom-and-pop operation grow given his brother-in-law’s woodworking expertise and the huge demand for wood products.
Gomez took out a P5 million-loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines to buy equipment from Germany, a plot of land in Antipolo, and build a bigger facility. When everything was nearly set, however, the brother-in-law developed cold feet. “He was very conservative with money,” Gomez says. “Hinayang naman ako, so I told him that if he wants, he can just be the consultant while I take over running the business. He agreed.”
Gomez named the company Cedarwood Corp., and focused on making knife blocks and chopping boards for export. Business was good; allowing them to land a big American client whose orders alone had them working 24 hours a day. “We were consuming 300,000 board feet each month,” says Gomez, a former pilot. “The term of the loan was 10 years but (because of this project) we were able to pay it back in just five years.” Emboldened, Gomez borrowed another P5 million to boost production.
It proved to be an unwise move. Shortly after, the Philippine furniture industry suffered a big blow when the government imposed a logging ban in 1992, causing prices of wood and wood products to shoot up. China also started flooding the market with dirt-cheap wood products. “There came a time when we could no longer compete with China, so our American buyer – our biggest buyer – had no choice but to dump us,” Gomez says. “It happened so suddenly, without even a notice that almost overnight, the company shut down.”
To compound matters, Gomez also had to shut down his sawmill and rubber wood processing plant in Ipil, Zamboanga in the wake of a series of raids by the Abu Sayyaf in 1995. “Zero kami kaagad,” Gomez says. “Because I could no longer pay my loan to DBP, the interest I owed them ballooned to as much as 40 percent and they threatened to foreclose the property. I had to sell part of my property to pay off the debt.” Broke, Gomez let go of his employees save for some key personnel. He also kept their equipment.
Then he and his crew salvaged what remained of the failed business by accepting any and all woodworking projects. “I believed in the skills of my people and the efficiency of our machines, so I knew we would bounce back.” And bounce back they did.