The Best Investment I Have Ever Made
I have put blood, sweat, and even tears into many investments. Most never paid off but a few have. This is a story about my sister-in-law and her business. Most people go to the bank and get a loan for their business, or maybe they get investors. There is still a segment of people that take something small and grow it slowly into something big. This is one of those stories and it happened in the Philippines.
Back in 2006, my wife and son had just arrived to the U.S. from the Philippines and were getting settled in to the new place. I had completed the tax return for 2005 and the refund had come 10 days later. After explaining how it all worked to her and that the return was our money to use towards whatever we choose. Naturally, I wanted to pay off existing debt. I prefer to stay debt-free or as close to it as possible. Dave Ramsey helped me really understand that cash is king.
Once we discussed our plans for the money she asked if she could have $500. This puzzled me a bit and I asked what for. Not because I would have said no, but to answer my curiosity. She told me about her sister that lived out in the province. The province is a place that had just gotten electricity a few years prior. This part of the family had nothing and no way to pay for even the basic comforts that we enjoy in the United States. Her sister had always wanted to own a Sari Sari store (convenience store) and use the profits to take care of the family.
This was quite a deal because if I didn’t make this investment it would have meant that I would have been covering those future expenses. For those that are not aware, its common that the children grow up to take care of the elderly in the Philippines. By this, I mean that as parents age it’s the children’s responsibility to provide assistance to their parents because there is no Medicare, Social Security, and much of anything like there is in the Western world. I knew this going in so it wasn’t some shock or anything. I knew exactly what I was signing up for.
I gladly said yes and sent the money via Xoom to her sister to pick up at the bank. I forgot about it as I didn’t think I would ever meet this sister or the family. If she was successful then great otherwise it wasn’t a huge loss by any means. From time to time my wife would tell me that things were going really great and I would nod and smile. I am always happy to hear about an entrepreneur’s success and that’s exactly what her sister was now.
Later on in 2009, my wife and kids had moved back to the Philippines for a year while I served in South Korea. During my tour I would take leave and visit my family. One time my wife told me that the distant family was traveling towards Manila to stay at our place for a while. I had already planned a week there during this time so I thought it would be great to finally meet this part of the family that hadn’t asked me for money in years.
When I meet them for the first time I had asked about the store. She told me that things were going so well that all the children were in school (some families can’t afford to send their kids to school), everyone was fed, and they didn’t need any money. The store had also tripled in size by this point. I was amazed to hear about her ability to take a small investment and grow it into the largest store in her town in only 3 years time. That’s impressive regardless if she isn’t the next Sam Waldon.
Fast forward to 2013 and I had another opportunity to see this extended family again. I was excited for a couple reasons. The first was of course just to see them, but the second was to hear and hopefully see how things were going in the store.
She started small at first, selling candy and non-perishable items. Then she added 1 new product at a time until business was better and she could afford to continue adding products. She started with I believe 15 different products and as I type this sitting outside of her store, she has at least 500 different products for sale. She is in one of the poorest of towns and has grown into 4 different expansions in 9 years.
Okay, let’s get back to 2013. I want to see what she needed and walk into the store and see it for the first time. One year previously my wife had told me that her sister was building a new store and construction was going to be 20,000PHP ($450USD). My first question was how is business and she was excited to tell me about the growth and the future of the store. I had asked what she needed next. She wanted to add rice, gasoline, and remittance ability so local Filipinos could receive and send money like Western Union.
I had only come to the province for one day and the nearest ATM machine was 3 hours away by jeepney. I had only brought 7,000PHP ($150USD) with me with no expectation of using most of it. I continued asking her about the things she needed and how much it would cost to get the initial stock. She told me the rice would be 5,000PHP ($110USD), so I handed her the money. I could see it in her face how much that meant to her. I wished I could have given her more but promised we would try to send more later to help out.
Once we left, I found it next to impossible to send the money she needed, and pay off debt at the same time. I wanted to be debt free before I retired from the Air Force and I needed every dollar to do so.
Right now (June 2015) I am here again and the store is huge. It’s the largest store in at least 50 km. Her store is busy all day long and her oldest child is almost done with college, all paid for by the store. This investment not only paid dividends for all of the family, but also eliminated the need to send money. Only in rare occasions would I have to send money to help with things like larger hospital bills for my mother-in-law. I didn’t mind at all.
The next step for the store is remittance. She has made a deal with another store that has the capabilities to do this. In this case she only gets 20% of whatever the fee is and we all know that 100% is where she needs to be. She estimates that this will cost 50,000PHP ($1100USD) and I may have to make another contribution in the future but I am not making any commitments just yet. If only she could do a Kickstarter or a GoFundMe.
She has the business attitude and the experience now. It’s only a matter of time before she has to expand the building again to add the necessary stock.
The ability for her to take the original $500 in 2006 and turn it into thousands of dollars is impressive when you consider most people here still live in huts. She has covered all kinds of expenses that I didn’t need to and probably saved me thousands of dollars in money transfers. She would be an amazing manager in a big retail outlet. Maybe even in a leadership role guiding a company. She is the most talented in the family at business and I certainly applaud her continuing success.
If the children are paying attention to what is happening in front of their eyes then they may learn how to do this even better. Perhaps this is the next rags to riches story. If so, I am glad to be able to tell it to the world. I love that it has happened in our family, but by my business experience this is the best investment I have made or seen to date. If only they had internet here, she would have even more customers.
My mother always told me to invest in yourself as it’s the best one you could make. This is one time that she wasn’t completely correct and one that was perfect to make.
What’s the best investment that you have made? Tell me your story or a story you know of. If you do share it below in the comments, can I share it on social media? I would love to share stories of success with the world.
Do you disagree that this was a success? Tell me why. I want to know what your standards are and perhaps I can grow from what you have to share with me. I know this isn’t a million-dollar business, but by the measures of this community it is as close as it could be. That doesn’t mean I am right though. Let me know positive or negative below.