Before joining his father’s business selling Philippine-made furniture in Chicago, Jof Babaran, an industrial engineer, worked with one of the biggest companies in the United States. In 1990 he gave up his career as an industrial engineer and worked for six years as a buyer for his father’s business.
In 1992, during one of his buying trips to the Philippines, Babaran met and married Frances De Vega, after which the couple decided to put up a company that would manufacture his father’s furniture needs in the US. He held office in his and his wife’s bedroom at the house of his in-laws in Quezon City, then converted the 50-square-meter structure of their defunct piggery into a rattan furniture factory.
The company, which he called Arte Caña, started with only four workers: one to make the furniture frame, one to weld the frame, one to weave the wickerwork, and one to put the finishing touches. Babaran himself was the salesman, the deliveryman, the secretary, and everything else besides.
A BRILLIANT IDEA TURNS INTO A BUSINESS
It was during this time that Babaran developed an innovation for rocking chair glider rockers. Glider rockers in the US and Canada are normally made of wood. He says: “We developed a glider rocker made of rattan and steel, and the innovation made it more stable.”
Fascinated with the mechanism, Babaran came up with the idea of mass manufacturing it. In 1992, he started producing the glider rockers instead of the furniture products that his father needed.
But producing the glider rockers at home wasn’t easy. Babaran recalls: “At that time, 1997, we had to do the work at our backyard to save on rent. Our workspace was very cramped. We were working literally under the trees, putting up tents over our work areas because we couldn’t afford to construct a bigger factory. And to sustain our operations, my wife and I worked for the company without paying salaries to ourselves. For the first three years, in fact, we plowed back every little bit of profit to the company.”
In 1997, however, Babaran’s fledgling business got its first big break when it participated in the Philippine International Furniture Show. He recalls: ”All we exhibited were our glider rockers. There were almost 200 exhibitors but we were the only ones that carried the product, and our entire inventory was bought by a company that also manufactured nothing but glider rockers and marketed them in the US. Since no one else was carrying the product, that company had no choice but to pay exactly the price that we asked for.”