Thursday, August 10, 2000

The Coolest NAAAP-ster of them all

By all accounts it looked like a typical networking meeting. Pasta dishes and chicken fingers were being kept warm on chaffing dishes, and people were chatting away in groups of twos and threes. Many were already seated, awaiting the evening's speaker. But this wasn't the typical "cyber scene dot com" party. I was attending the National Association of Asian American Professionals “Speaker Series 2000” on Thursday, August 10, at the Mercantile Bar & Grille. I chatted with Paul FlorCruz of his own consulting company and an expert witness for the securities business. Attorney Benjamin Hsing and Sei Nomi, a technology consultant, and I exchanged business cards quickly before the program began. Yolanda Loo, Wendy Szeto and president of NAAAP Julie Huang were greeting guests and making conversation. But when the clock struck 8, Wendy introduced the speaker, Cecilia Pagkalinawan, CEO/founder of Because we were in a private dining room of a restaurant, the facility wasn't equipped with high-tech capabilities, so we didn’t get to see all her fancy charts. But Cecilia adeptly took us through the state of e-tailing and how to approach it. 

If I learned one thing this evening, it was "the importance of multi-channeling." Cecilia took us through the history of retailing, from marketplace stalls, malls and department stores to catalogues and mail order to the Internet e-commerce shops. She went over the background of recent Internet-only, pure-play failures like, and how she knew months before their inevitable decline that there needed to be a bricks-and-mortar component. When Levis told their retailers "no sales" online, they quickly lost many sales and opportunities to continue expanding their brand online. They eventually got around to changing their policy, but not after some brand-damage. We were wowed with figures like $382 billion in online retailing, retail sales growing by 7% and apparel sales by 85%, but Cecilia also quickly acknowledged how even these figures are so quickly discounted by researchers and analysts.

The most intriguing part of the evening was when Cecilia expanded a bit on her background. She was appointed President of Abilon Corporation to set up this Canadian-based NY office. After disagreements between the management and their investors, they were going to shut down the NY office. With staff, clients and a full-operation, Cecilia didn't want to close up shop. She offered to buy out the company instead of taking the severance package, and for $1 created Boutique Y3K. What's that saying again? "All I need is a dollar and a dream." Still true in today's wild Internet hard times!