A year and seven months, this is how long CocoChew has been in business. Nine months, how long it has been since the CocoChew manufacturing team consisted of three pairs of hands...our hands. Our whole team has memories of sitting outside on a hot summer day, with a bundle of coconut twine between our feet and a cold beer by our side. None of us will ever forget the long hours spent making CocoChews. Years from now we will be able to look back and laugh about our operation on Chip’s porch. When compared to the facilities of our manufacturing partners now it is clear we have come a long way. The story of how we got here is long and filled with adversity. All the trials and tribulations we faced were more than worth it in the end. We found our amazing partners in a country that has no shortage of coconuts, Philippines.
CocoChew’s original business plan had (what we thought at the time) a very simple strategy for how we would manufacture the toys as we scale. The ten thousand dollars we would win from winning the finals of UNH’s Holloway competition would be used to pay for a machine to manufacture the toys. Well, this plan may have worked if we won the ten thousand dollars. Things only got more complicated from here.
After graduating from UNH we began doing farmers markets in Cape Cod. A month in, we knew our manufacturing facility on Chip’s porch would not be sufficient. Our original plan would no longer work; so we did what all entrepreneurs must do and we pivoted. The new plan was to send coconut twine to manufacturers of nautical rope. We were fairly confident that they would be able to replicate our process. We went ahead and sent the supply to two different manufacturers with confidence that our hands would soon be freed. Both were quick to let us know that the coconut husk was not able to run through their machines. In fact, one of the manufacturers told us that the fibers from the husk almost clogged their machine...oops. So now we were back at square one. The toys would need to be handmade. Until we found a supplier and manufacturer with this capability we would remain the manufacturing team.
The search began. After doing some research I found out that 93% of coconuts exported in the world come from the Philippines. I made a list of 14 coconut suppliers and reached out to all of them asking if they would be open to becoming our supplier. I also knew that we could save both time and money by streamlining our supply chain. If our supplier could also be our manufacturer we would be in a much better position. I asked every supplier if they would be willing to also manufacture our product. Within two weeks I had received responses from two of the suppliers.
The whole team was ecstatic about this new development but we were also unaware of the unwarranted stigma around products made, well, anywhere but the US. We were not immune to this stigma starting out, and knew that some who hear about a manually manufactured product in Southeast Asia, would begin to question the legitimacy and overall quality of the product. To combat this issue, we wanted to go to the Philippines to establish a relationship and ensure our potential supplier was running a clean and sustainable operation. I can still remember receiving the email from the suppliers saying they would love to host us. I looked at Chip, told him the news, and within an hour our flights were booked.
Two weeks later, we were cruising at 35,000 feet in the air. When we landed, we would be on the other side of the world. The whole situation was so surreal at the time. We had no idea how bold this decision truly was. There we were, two, 23-year-old kids traveling halfway across the world to find a supplier for a business that was only three months old. A risk that most broke college graduates would certainly not be willing to take.
When we arrived in the Philippines two things stood out. One, the people were incredibly friendly. Two, we would never have any issues with supply. Everywhere we looked there was gorgeous palm trees bearing just what we came for, coconuts. The morning after we arrived, we were picked up by the representative of our potential supplier, PEC. Our driver, Delphin, was quite possibly the most impressive driver on the planet. Although the Philippines has many stark contrasts to the United States, one thing was impossible to ignore. There are NO rules of the road. I was taken back by how many cars we were cruising past, across multiple lanes.
Our first day visiting PEC was a day neither of us will ever forget. It was eye-opening to see the processes that turn a coconut into practical material. One of the most humbling moments of the trip was getting to meet the men and women working at PEC. The ones that make what we do possible. Prior to meeting the team, we were curious if they would be willing or able to make the toys. Not once did we hear any push-back or complaints about the job or if they would be able to make the toys. Instead, they were sincerely grateful for being able to provide for their families! Something that will always stick with me about this trip is the genuine happiness of many Filipinos. The pride the PEC workers took in their work made me very confident that we had found our partners.
The second day of our trip would reaffirm our notion that coconut supply would not be an issue. Chip and I got the chance to visit the facility that stripped the husk off of the coconuts. Pulling up to the facility, we were floored by the sheer amount of husk. Mounds of husk towering over our heads spanned for hundreds of yards. At one point, a truck pulled up filled with enough coconuts to make thousands of CocoChews. Even with all these great discoveries, the best part of the day may have been playing with this puppy that lives at the facility.
PEC had clearly shown their ability to supply and manufacture Cocochews. The third day of the trip would mostly consist of working out the business side of our partnership. We were shown a presentation regarding PEC’s current products, where their coconuts are sourced from, and the social aspect of their business. We were extremely pleased to learn that PEC is part of an initiative to provide coconuts farmers with better housing and education. Now we’ve learned that not only does PEC treat its employees with care, but they also work to empower the farmers that supply them with coconuts by giving back and providing the necessary resources for a better life. By the end of the day, we were ecstatic and very proud that PEC would manufacture our products by using safe and sustainable practices. Confident and excited, we figured we couldn’t come all the way down to the other side of the world and not have a look around! Now it was time to explore…
Our last day with PEC was an opportunity for them to show us the stunning landscapes that the Philippines are known for. The town PEC is based out of ,San Pablo, is known for having seven lakes that are all beautiful in their own way. After walking a path that included a field full of horses we were met by one of the most breathtaking sights of our lives. The color of the water was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Palm trees, blue skies, and clear waters made up a scene that words cannot give justice. Just as unforgettable as the view was the time we spent getting to know the employees at PEC. By the end of the day, we did not view PEC’s employees as business partners but rather as new members of the CocoChew family. When it was time to leave, it was hard to hold back the emotions. In three days, these people were able to make us feel so comfortable and welcome in a place that was as far from home as possible. Our departure was not a goodbye; we knew we would see them soon. We left feeling proud to have made a relationship with such an amazing company and group of people.
Finally, the search had ended. Our days of tying CocoChew’s on Chip's porch were no more. Looking back, this trip was a critical chapter to a story that is still being written. PEC and CocoChew still have so much more to accomplish together.
Your CocoChew has come all the way from San Pablo to your front door. Your dog can thank PEC for making their new favorite toy. We can’t wait to hear how much they like it!