Editor’s Note: Edith V. Alvarez is the general manager of Patterson Enterprises, which does business as Suncare Distributors, Guam Self Storage and, with its grand opening last August, Guam Premium Chocolate. She joined the company 18 years ago working in sales and three years later assumed her role as general manager. A graduate of the University of Guam, Alvarez holds a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology and a minor in social work. She has also worked for the Department of Public Health and Social Services, Power 98 and I Love Books. She is married to Edward Alvarez, executive director of the Commission on Decolonization.
Q: Suncare Distributors branched into frozen foods in 2011 with the move to a larger facility in Barrigada. Has the expansion of products been a worthwhile investment? Have there been any unforeseen challenges in the frozen foods market?
A: Due to the growth we were experiencing, the move to a larger facility for Suncare Distributors was a necessity. We needed to be in a location that could accommodate our growing needs and future wants, and although we no longer dabble in the frozen food market, being in a location that could accommodate the continuing expansion of our business has definitely been a worthwhile investment.
Q: From sunscreens and beach accessories to dried mangoes and banana chips, your products are fitting for the company’s name, Suncare. Is this by design?
A: More so than not. The market we understand the most and have the most experience in is Guam’s lucrative retail tourist industry. We have over 20 years’ experience providing the most sellable products to the various duty-free shops, souvenir shops and convenience stores along the stretch of Tumon Bay. Suncare’s beginnings are rooted in the sale of sun protection products and beach accessories. Although we have diversified our product lines over the years, our core, best-selling products continue to have a connection to sun, surf and the island lifestyle.
Q: Because of the nature of some of Suncare’s products, like the sunscreens and Guam USA dried fruits, being popular in tourist-targeted stores, how much of an impact does the company feel when tourism numbers increase or decrease?
A: Tourism is Guam’s main industry. It drives our economy. It would be hard not to feel any impact when visitor numbers are down, no matter what industry you are in on Guam. To stay in business here, you have to be prepared for the highs and lows that happen in the industry. In order to help sustain us during the lows, we ventured into other markets by introducing product lines that customers were familiar with and [we] took a risk with some new brands. This ultimately expanded our customer base. We also developed promotions with our vendor partners, which helped us break into and grow market share. Overall, we still feel the impact; it’s just not as dramatic.
Q: How much has the company expanded or is the company looking to expand its distribution to Saipan, Palau and any other islands in the region?
A: We’ve about tripled in size from our last location, and our distribution center is only one aspect of our business. It had always been our intention to expand into other markets. Saipan and Palau and some of the other neighboring islands have been part of our distribution base for several years now.
Q: Guam Premium Chocolate held its grand opening last August. Guam does not have many factory-style tours available. How has it been received by tourists, school groups and locals?
A: When we opened the Guam Premium Chocolate factory, our focus was to manufacture products that not only filled a need, but created one as well. A key factor in designing the factory was to make it tour-friendly. Not only did we want our facility to be state-of-the-art and a leader in the industry, we also wanted it to be a showcase. From the beginning, our concept has been for Guam Premium Chocolate to grow beyond just local souvenir chocolate production to becoming an icon for Guam business and manufacturing. Like the Dole Pineapple Plantation is to the state of Hawaii, we want Guam Premium Chocolate to become a landmark for Guam and for the reputation of our quality products to extend beyond the Pacific region to Asia and the United States.
We’ve conducted personalized tours for VIPs, such as the governor of Guam and Archbishop [Anthony S.] Apuron. We’ve hosted several private business managers and owners as well as many foreign investor groups visiting Guam, all for the sole purpose of showcasing that Guam is a player in world-class manufacturing. We have had inquiries from local educational organizations to conduct factory tours, and although we have not had any just yet, we always welcome any and all community organizations to tour our facility.
Overall, the response from the community and first-time visitors has been tremendous, mostly commenting that they never knew Guam could have such a facility and that they only see places like that on television.
Q: As a distributor of a locally made product in Guam Premium Chocolate, what differences do you find in the marketing and popularity of Guam-made vs. non locally made products?
A: [The Guam Economic Development Authority’s] recent takeover of the Guam Product Seal Program for made in Guam products has definitely created an advantage for locally made goods in the past few years. This change helped us with our early decision to build a manufacturing facility. Early discussions with the GEDA administration were a key factor in our commitment to this venture. In the past, locally produced products commanded only a small presence and really were more of a niche market. We feel today that the “Made in Guam” image has matured enough to have a strong market advantage.
However, there continues to be a demand for certain imported products, and in responding to that need, Suncare continues to import and distribute a large volume of souvenir gifts to that segment of the market. Overall, the choice to begin local manufacturing has only proven to be worthwhile for us. Our surveys indicate that locals feel a definite pride in being able to purchase a product that was made right here at home, and visitors are beginning to appreciate the value of purchasing souvenirs of superior quality that are made locally.
As a distributor of both imported as well as locally manufactured products, we promote to the market as a whole and allow the customers to make the decision about how to spend their money. Our job is to offer them reasonable options. Some visitors want an inexpensive souvenir of the place they visited and don’t particularly care where or how it is made. Others want something produced in the place they visited and are willing to pay for that distinction. If your products do more than deliver on either option, you’ve done your job in providing the customer with what they are looking for. Although we have our hand in both the imported and locally produced markets, we’ve seen the trend for locally made products gain momentum, and we are definitely proud to be a part of that momentum.
Q: What are the challenges in running a self-storage facility?
A: Guam Self Storage prides itself in providing a clean, convenient, safe, reliable, secure, pest-free and typhoon-proof storage facility for its customers. In order to set ourselves apart from the competition, we go the extra mile to maintain the environment of our facility as a whole. Maintenance and upkeep of the facility and air conditioning remain our highest priority. But our greatest challenge remains in a single word: collections.
Q: What is the demographic of your self-storage customers, and are they typically long- or short-term?
A: Surprisingly, 70% to 80% are local residents with the remaining being a mix of military personnel, non-local individuals living in Guam indefinitely and business customers. Most of our tenants are long-term having rented spaces for several years now; however, we do have a consistent cycle of short-term tenants that rotate through our facility on a regular basis.
Q: What new developments does Patterson Enterprises have on the horizon?
A: Of course we are excited about the Guam Premium Chocolate factory and the enormous potential for growth it brings to the business. By continuing to diversify the line of products, our facility can produce and learn from the success of our current products and marketing strategies. We project further expansion of our export business to Asia and the United States.