Success in the bag
It’s no surprise that the Philippines sells the most number of anti-theft bags in Asia.
But for Irish and Dustin Lim, it wasn’t enough to just appreciate the bright idea of outsmarting thieves. It took them foresight to invest in the opportunity, trust to pool their life savings, and work hard to develop a foreign brand and making it work for Filipinos.
The Lims are the official country distributors of PacSafe, the “smart” bags that prevent pickpockets from fishing out wallets and gadgets from bags or slash pocket compartments.
These days, people carry their backpacks in front, handbags are held in close grasps, and commuters are forced to mind their things other than personal safety inside congested trains, buses and jeeps.
“This is the Philippines, when we start talking security, everyone can relate,” Dustin says.
He adds that aside from the commuting for daily errands or work, travelers want their bags secured without having to worry about their luggage all the time.
“With the integrated locks as part of the bag’s design, people can have the peace of mind to enjoy the trip,” Dustin adds.
The couple first encountered the PacSafe brand in 2007 and has since focused on introducing value brands to store shelves.
“For PacSafe, it was something unique. There was nothing like it yet in the Philippines, so I make the competitor irrelevant,” says Dustin.
The couple has a knack for choosing brands for a niche segment. They now also sell Hello Lulu fashionable laptop bags, Outdoor travel bags, and Ivar, the reinvented backpacks whose compartments distribute the weight on the person’s back.
Irish, however, was hesitant at first to invest in the PacSafe because the investment required their combined life savings of almost P2 million. She eventually trusted her business partner’s move. She knew Dustin for a long time after all.
The two were classmates in grade school before Irish transferred to an exclusive school. They were reunited in college as blockmates at the De La Salle University.
“We were business partners first, then a couple,” Irish shares. But it was because they had to realign their wedding budget to the new business project.
“We’re not capital-intensive. We started from scratch. That’s why I tell our employees that it’s not capital alone that runs a company. It’s passion. When you have that, you have a better focus to reach your goal,” Dustin says.
Dustin used to work for a supermarket chain, while Irish managed their family business on billboards. They had to quit their jobs when they decided to strike on their own as United Limsun International Trading Corp.
“It was hard to start a distributing business. There were trust issues from PacSafe—it was like asking ‘Who are these two anyway,’” relates Irish.
Our company is young. Unlike other established businesses with track records, it was hard to convince the principals (PacSafe) to trust us that we could develop the brand,” she adds.
The Australian-based company eventually lent their brand name to the couple on a trial basis.
“They didn’t know much about the Philippines. So, we had a trial run and we’re thankful for the trust,” Irish says.
A year after, the Philippines sold 30 percent more than the volume of Asia’s market leader, Japan, even with a lean network of 60 distributors, mostly made of department stores across the country.
“Being No. 1 [distributor] in Asia is just a bonus, because what we’re really thankful for is that our consumers realize that our brand addresses a need,” says Dustin.
Success is in the bag for Irish and Dustin. The couple, both 32, works hard in tandem to be the market leader in this niche industry.
“Look at the crime rates and we know this is not a perfect world. You’ll never know what can happen,” says Irish. “That’s why we are addressing a need.”
“We want to grow as a company for the right reasons, we want to make a difference,” he adds. “As distributors, we want our employees to grow with us, too.”