Marianito “Jojo” Vito is not your average jack-of-all-trades. He is a teacher, blogger, plantito, and artist-slash-entrepreneur. His business — Vito’s Prints and Pieces (now known as Jojo Vito Designs Gallery and Garden) — is a flourishing arts and crafts company in Bacolod City that has been around for over 26 years.

The business wasn’t always as prosperous as it is now. It went through a series of ups and downs that can cause any regular person to just throw in the towel. But Jojo isn’t one to give up that easily.

Jojo Vito’s Life Journey

In the late 1990s, Jojo lost his job as a Human Resources Manager at a navigation firm in Negros Occidental. Unsure of what to do next, he and his friends started their own business — a printing press. However, given the high competition for the same service in Bacolod City and their subsequent narrow profit margin, his pals abandoned the venture after just a few years.

But it was not the investors who were severely affected by the printing press’ low-profit turnout — it was their employees.

When Jojo saw how bad his employees’ situation was, he decided to keep the business going. As an artist and entrepreneur, Jojo searched for a creative and environment-friendly way to reuse his printing press’s scratch papers.

After thorough research and experimentation, he came up with the concept of transforming waste paper into paper mache masks to sell at the MassKara Festival, an annual festival in Bacolod City. The papier-mâché masks and headdresses were an instant hit among locals and tourists.

This prompted him to launch his crafty enterprise: Vito’s Prints and Pieces.

Crisis as a Catalyst for Change

Everything was going well until the pandemic came and crushed almost every business in the country. Like many other entrepreneurs, Jojo had no choice but to shut his business down. He had to close for three months or risk losing more and prolonging the closure.

However, he was very concerned about the welfare of his employees. How can they survive? Jojo and many others then turned to the “barter system.” With this form of trade, people would exchange goods and services instead of cash.

So in exchange for food and other necessities, Jojo bartered the products in his gallery. He gave the goods he acquired to his employees. It was a tough time, but he managed to get by.

“I believe that charity begins at home,” Jojo expressed, “so I prioritized my staff, whom I considered family. During the pandemic, I didn’t intend to make much money. My goal is to simply stay afloat.”

But Jojo saw a glimmer of hope that could help him weather the global crisis of COVID-19. While casually browsing social media one day, he observed that people sell almost anything on Facebook. He followed suit and began to post on social media platforms like Facebook. With the positive response he received, he began to look into other aspects of social media promotion, including live selling.

But he encountered another problem: how can he make his live selling more creative and unique?

He had a spark of idea that could help him stand out from the competition: naming the pots after select individuals. Jojo named over 50 pots and jars after his friends and other people he admired. He then created social media cards that displayed the faces of his friends whose names he borrowed for the pots.

“My friends were good enough to lend me their faces on social media so that the pots have an identity. Previously, I only thought that online live selling was a theory, but soon I realized how effective it was,” remarked Jojo.

With the sales gradually picking up, Jojo contacted some of his former employees to get them back to work. They were back to a 7-day work week, with some of the staff even working overtime to meet the growing demand.

DTI Helps Expand Jojo’s Network

Because of this arts and crafts business, Jojo became a well- known personality in Negros Occidental. He gained friends from all walks of life and was even able to partner with government agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

“In every catastrophe, there is always an opportunity waiting for every entrepreneur who is willing to take the risk and daring enough to take it.”

That friendship allowed Jojo to be invited as a mentor in DTI’s Kapatid Mentor ME Program, where he coached other micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises on improving their business.

Aside from gaining more networking opportunities, Jojo was able to promote his business to other participants.

He also attended the DTI training on social media marketing so he could utilize the platform more effectively.

“Previously, you would have to pay thousands of pesos for advertisements on television and in newspapers; now, you can reach a larger audience for as little as PhP50 per day by using social media,” said Jojo.

Although the sales of his masks and headdresses were booming, products made out of paper mache are susceptible to molds, so Jojo had to look for a different raw material. His friends from DTI suggested making pots out of fiberglass since home gardening suddenly became in demand during the pandemic.

“Fiberglass is quite expensive, labor-extensive, but a very versatile material, upon using it, I realized that we can make a lot of products with it,” said Jojo.

Jojo then started to expand his product line, crafting items like mirrors, luminaries, and furnishings. The public response during trade fairs was pretty good that he is now considering exporting his products.

Towards a More Creative and Expansive Future

Now that tourism activities are slowly returning, Jojo is focusing on expanding his home décor lines. He is also experimenting with other souvenirs and mask designs. They are now producing pots of varying sizes and styles meant for big houses, hotels, resorts, and condominiums.

Thanks to Jojo’s courage and ingenuity, he has not only survived but thrived in the ever-changing landscape of business. His story is a reminder that we should always be open to new opportunities and be willing to adapt to the times.

While others see live selling as an embarrassing form of marketing, our mentor-entrepreneur was undaunted. When asked about

this, Marianito “Jojo” Vito responded, “Nothing is shameful nor embarrassing by earning decent money through selling.”

Hands down, we definitely agree. ♦