We talked to Chris Urbano of Winery.ph on teaching Filipino about wine and the effects of the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Chris Urbano: All family members are safe and accounted for. Despite the uncertain times, we’re thankful for the chance to spend more time with family. Home-cooked meals and opportunities to read, reflect, and take things more slowly.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Winery.ph.
Chris Urbano: I was a management consultant but was always too entrepreneurial for a corporate job. When I moved to the Philippines in 2014, I was looking to start a business. The biggest thing that frustrated me was the lack of choice in wine in supermarkets, which is a category I love. And I thought that I could do better. I realized early on that the problem to solve in the Philippines was distribution and connecting consumers with the wide range of imported wine but does not make it to supermarket shelves because of supply chain inefficiencies and anti-competitive sales marketing practices. So I founded Winery. ph to empower Filipino consumers to learn about wine and to buy better.
How does Winery.ph innovate?
Chris Urbano: The Philippines has a young but growing e-commerce industry. The wine retail industry is only beginning to catch up now. Previously, wine-buyers have only been able to purchase in grocery stores and large chain wine stores scattered across major urban areas. As a result of pay for play practices in these physical locations, the best quality wines do not necessarily reach consumers. Winery.ph disrupts that model by connecting consumers directly to high-quality wines from the widest range of importers in the Philippines, backed by our industry-leading customer guarantee and nationwide shipping. Our reliable and easy online ordering experience empowers wine drinkers to pursue their wine journey on their own terms.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Chris Urbano: It’s been an opportunity for us. With everybody locked at home during the quarantine period, there have been five years of e-commerce market growth in the Philippines in the space of just five months. That’s led to an enormous boom in the use of our online channel. Consumers are looking to get their wine delivered fast, safely, and reliably, and we were in the right position to provide that need. Of course, it’s not been without its challenges. In the early days of quarantine, we had challenges with logistics. But even during the Philippines’ most strict lockdown period, we managed to deliver 98% of orders on time and in full, which speaks to our team’s adaptability and resilience.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Chris Urbano: With the uncertainty of the situation, we had to make certain cuts initially with employee work hours to ensure that our employees would continue to have jobs and that our business would continue to stay afloat. Other companies would have made cuts to teams that were underutilized; we instead reallocated their work and made smart investments to gear them up for the shifting nature of their roles. It actually turned out to be a wise decision because all our employees managed to keep their employment until we eventually reinstated their full work detail once things started to stabilize.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Chris Urbano: Being in the wine industry really helps.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Chris Urbano: There are a few other online wine stores in the local market, as well as new players that have emerged because of brick and mortar stores transitioning to online in the middle of the pandemic. There’s been a lot of pressure to compete on price and instantaneous deliveries. Winery.ph has deliberately stayed away from building its business based on mass-market trends.
Instead, we focus on curating the largest range of wine in the Philippines and delivering on our promise to our customers that we will deliver these wines in-stock, in-full, and on-time. You can be sure that if you get a bottle of wine from our platform, we won’t call you up to let you know that the product you just bought is out of stock. We’re incredibly committed to providing a great customer experience for our Kavinos (it’s what we call our loyal customers), and that comes through in positive experiences for the thousands of people who have purchased wine on our site.
Your final thoughts?
Chris Urbano: Bring on 2021. You’ll see bigger and better things from Winery.ph. If you’re not already a Kavino, what are you waiting for?