Small Business Champion: ER Rollan, CEO Awards Honoree for Entrepreneurial Excellence
Having witnessed the challenges faced by sari-sari store owners, ER Rollan initiated GrowSari—a pioneering social enterprise committed to empowering millions of underserved Filipino business proprietors.
Sari-sari stores are part of Filipino culture, with a store found on almost every street and every corner. Privately owned and run by families, these neighborhood sundry shops are the answer to the country’s sachet economy—with packets of day-to-day essentials hanging on grilled walls, snacks like instant noodles and chips on the side, and softdrinks or even sauces being doled out in bags.
While sari-sari store numbers are in the millions—specifically, 1.3 million and counting—the recurring challenge that these Filipino owners face includes obtaining the very supply that keeps their respective businesses afloat. Whether that involves having to close shop temporarily to buy from competitor grocery stores, spending time and money on long commutes to acquire supplies, or having no choice but to put low markup on already costly supplies and more, the harsh reality is that sari-sari stores cannot thrive under these circumstances.
With that in mind, ER Rollan—together with fellow co-founders Oggy Ogonowski, Shiv Choudhury, and Sid Kongara—built GrowSari, an ordering platform that seeks to bridge fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies with these enterprising Filipinos. By partnering with these local and multinational companies, GrowSari can offer supplies at distributor prices, while providing other channels that make running a sari-sari store possible: from deliveries to a “buy now, pay later” scheme, cashless payment channels, and even loan opportunities, cash management, remittances, and more.
Despite its humble beginnings in 2016, GrowSari has quickly grown in reach—now servicing 24 key cities and over 400 municipalities nationwide, including far-flung areas like the provinces of Isabela in North Luzon and Bais, Dumaguete in Visayas. Moreover, the company has amassed a large network of supplies, with more than 1,000 FMCG products from 85 FMCG partners, alongside a strong workforce of about 2,500 employees that service even more sari-sari store owners to date.
The Business Manual recognizes ER Rollan’s efforts in giving back and aiding a large but underrepresented business sector by honoring him with the CEO Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Under his astute leadership, GrowSari continues to be a partner for the growing millions of sari-sari store owners across the country.
The CEO Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence
The CEO Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence is a special category in The Business Manual’s CEO Awards where the website’s editors choose honorees for their entrepreneurial achievements in growing businesses. In partnership with Pharmaton, the award showcases leaders who are one in both body and mind. Each honoree must display outstanding leadership in two categories:
For the “Mind” category, candidates for the CEO position should demonstrate impactful pivot decisions made within the last three years. These individuals must substantiate their capacity for active decision-making, thoughtful analysis, and strategic leadership.
Keen insight and critical decision-making is only half the story. For the “Body” category, candidates should exhibit successful milestones achieved during their tenure through proactive execution and entrepreneurial initiatives.
ER Rollan embodies this award through his social enterprise, GrowSari. Three years after its inception, the startup has already been able to conclude its initial series funding (Series A) round, with participation from large equity firms like JG Digital Equity Ventures (JGDEV), Robinson Retail Holdings Inc. (RRHI), and Wavemaker. Its Series B round funding was eventually concluded a few years later, with global investors like Pavilion Capital, Tencent, and International Finance Corporation (IFC) aiding the enterprise.
And as of 2022, GrowSari has achieved massive growth on its Series C funding—the largest raise in the B2B and MSME space in the Philippines, and one of the largest in the Southeast Asia region. Truly remarkable growth from a business perspective!
Growth in Numbers
For ER Rollan, the key to GrowSari’s success meant focusing on a small but mighty force: local sari-sari stores.
“It was only when I worked for P&G, Unilever, all of these FMCG companies that I realized [that sari-sari stores are] so important because it’s the biggest channel, but it’s also so underserved,” Rollan admits.
“In the Philippines, we have over one million sari-sari stores. Because these mom-and-pop stores are very [few] stores, no one serves them directly. GrowSari’s goal is to create an efficient logistics infrastructure so that companies can serve these individual sari-sari stores directly without going through any middleman,” he adds.
This is where GrowSari comes in. As an investor and partner, the goal is to grow with these sari-sari stores. “We’ve effectively taken on [the issue of] minimum order quantity. You cannot really serve everyone because the order size is too small,” he says simply. “If we remove the concept of minimum order quantity at this level, we can remove it at all levels, which means we can also co-load logistics with other people who are also delivering in the same barangay but maybe deliver to a small bakeshop and not just a sari-sari store.”
“What we’ve built is essentially a last-mile ecosystem that helps companies serve the smallest transactions, whether it’s a physical product, a digital service, or a financial service,” he adds.
Growing Services Under GrowSari
Alongside supply chain solutions, digitized payment methods, and more, GrowSari has done its part in helping businesses grow by growing its network of partners and suppliers. In fact, Rollan shares ongoing plans to introduce more features that can help sari-sari store owners further in this evolving business landscape.
This includes two new business units: SariMart and SariPay. The former aims to tackle the supply chain by becoming the largest business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce wholesaler for these small businesses with more than 1,000 FMCG products from 85 FMCG partners under its wing, while the latter will target the finances of these Filipino business owners by supporting them with working capital loans, cash management, remittances, and the like.
“We have about close to 2,500 employees. We serve 100,000 sari-sari stores every month. We have 600 tracking partners. So there’s a lot of people that rely on GrowSari steering the company in a certain direction,” Rollan reveals.
“It’s a good burden, but it also humbles us in a sense that it’s really a community that’s executing a lot of these things. And GrowSari will continue to grow if we can find more of these partners that are sort of aligned with our interest in growing the MSME ecosystem,” he concludes.
This article is powered by Pharmaton Energy, with Ginseng plus 40 Vitamins and Minerals, to help business leaders and striving achievers to “Be One in Body and Mind®”. Now, with a new and improved formulation (vs. Pharmaton Essential). Pharmaton is a trusted multivitamin brand with 60 Years of Science, available in leading drugstores nationwide.