THE business started out as Gigie Agtay, Joselle Badilla and Jen Limjuco started purchasing organic spa essentials for their own personal use from another friend based in Manila, Lian dela Cruz-Busto.

One thing lead to another as more and more friends wanted to get ZEN (Zestful, Energetic, Natural) products for their personal use as well. With only a month planning, Busto Badilla, Agtay, and Limjuco decided to open an outlet selling ZEN products.

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The four were joined by another colleague, Toto Lozano which led to the opening of Thegiftshop (operated by AbsolutelyUs! Company Ltd.), located at Valencia Corporate Center (at the back of Central Bank of the Philippines) along Arellano Street.

The shop opened last February 28, a bold move since most novelty shops have been closing down like dominoes.

"We already have a client-base. Selling the product is not difficult since it is popular in Manila," Agtay said in an interview.

Lian, a former PDI correspondent turned pilot of the Philippine Air Force, enjoys a flourishing ZEN products selling in Manila. She joined tiangges and bazaars in Manila and earned as much as more than P20,000 a day.

Zen products, which are made from organic materials with no harmful chemicals, harmonize with one's lifestyle. Among its products are: soaps variants not just fragrant but with health benefits, body scrubs, Epsom Salt and soap soak, face and body bath gel, glycerine soaps, facial and personal care treatment products (massage oils, organic lip balm, tea tree deodorant, lotion, body butter, body bath gel), foot care treatment (crystal foot soak, coco mint foot lotion, foot spa), hair care treatment products (shampoo, conditioner, hair wax), herbal care pillow mist, lip balm, pain relieving cream, herbal rubs and balms, and home care therapy (citronella spray, air freshener, pillow mist, herbal sanitizing mist).

Agtay said the store relies mostly on word of mouth for its marketing.

"We have walk-in clients as well as regulars who also purchase in bulk for reselling get 10 percent discount," Agtay said. "We ensure clients get the right products, at the right price."

With plenty of ideas about how to grow their business, the partners were attracted by the opportunity of selling online through Facebook (\thegiftshopdavao).

Although the business is taking off, they are interested in increasing their business skills and developing strategies to get Thegiftshop where they wanted it to be in the future.

Matching ZEN products with Papemelroti products and other gift items, Thegiftshop also welcomes friends to display their goods on consignment basis.

While the world has countless enthusiastic young people with ideas and technical skills, they believe there are many challenges facing budding entrepreneurs. As greenhorns in the business, the group meets once a month to fine-tune business strategies.

"Be ready to handle the challenges of a business. Running a business isn't easy. With customers to deal with, clients contacting you at any hour of the day, products to maintain, operating a business is very intensive," Agtay said.

"Before you begin anything, consider whether you really want to be in business. Running a business isn't for everyone -- you may be technically minded, but running a profitable business is a different thing altogether," she shared.

Another important issue the group deals with is time as all of them are working people.

"We find ourselves trying to get through 30 hours of work. When you're running a small business, opportunities can come up at the most unexpected times. You may run into a potential client at a party, a conference, or even a grocery store. You can't let everyone know about your new product or service but the more people who do know, the more opportunities you're likely to get, and therefore the better your chances of making it through your first few months in business. So we are getting the word out," she said.

And lastly, Agtay has this advice to those who want to venture into business: "Every time you start a business, you gain a new experience, extend your skills, and learn valuable lessons for your future enterprising."

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