Spending most of her career wedged between the 9-to-5, Zerline Chan Ortiz-Luis fulfilled a long-held dream of opening up her own boutique in 2009, curating quirky items from around the world. Now, Quirks Novelties and Curiosities has five branches across the Philippines and a successful online purchasing platform.
But her dream of opening a novelty gift shop came with a few surprises. She shares her journey, from juggling motherhood to facing adversity… and handling lots of boxes.
“Why doesn’t Manila have something like this”?
It all started with this simple question. Through travels with her sisters, Zerline discovered small shops filled with quirky products, places unlike anything back home in the Philippines. That’s when the idea for Quirks was first born.
As children, the sisters had dreamed of opening up their own little store. And now they yearned to bring something to Manila that celebrated individuality instead of just stocking items you could find anywhere else.
“Some people might find a certain product weird or useless, but another person will think ‘that item is so me!’ We celebrate individuality—the little quirks and nuances of every person. We wanted to make spaces unique and not just standard cookie-cutter”.
Zerline’s sister left her corporate job and they launched Quirks in 2009. With the slogan “What’s your quirk?” the store aims to provide both a physical and online marketplace for home and gift products—the quirkier the better.
The quirks and perks of being a woman in business
As if opening a business weren’t hard enough, Zerline found that it was increasingly challenging to ensure that people such as suppliers and developers saw her as credible and professional. She also found a hurdle in having to do tasks considered to be more male traditional roles, such as counting stocks, helping out in the warehouse and doing the heavy lifting—literally.
“I want to make sure I understand all aspects of the business,” she says. “Having your own business might sound glamorous, but you have to be willing to do the dirty work. If not you, who else will do it”?
To succeed, know your limits
As the mother of two young boys, Zerline faces the challenges of many working parents in managing her business, family and household.
“On the surface, being your own boss is great because you own your time, but it also means you can’t shut off from work”.
One technique Zerline has found is sticking to a strict checklist and schedule that aims to give her more family time. The key to making it work is keeping it realistic.
“It doesn’t make sense to list 10 things to do, knowing you can’t finish them. List three priorities and schedule the rest for another day. That way you’re not always running to finish a task”.
Leveraging online retail opportunities
Zerline has been quick to realise the necessity of social media for the success of a retail business. Having used Facebook since 2011, Quirks’ online sales have been growing steadily every year, and Facebook has consistently been the second-highest referrer for the site, after search.
Facebook has proved to be effective in turning Zerline’s dream of a little boutique into an online fashion empire. “For our December campaign for Quirks, we were able to garner 10x the return on investment with almost 8,000 clicks to our website”.
Zerline is thankful that she’s always had a mind for marketing, but emphasises everyone has the capability to learn on the job.
“I’ve always loved creating brands, so setting up retail concepts is something that I relish! Find something you are passionate about, and it won’t feel like work”.